Ever noticed that when you are excited or happy your thoughts seem to zip hither, thither and yon at a dizzying pace? Perhaps at the same time you also had feelings of increased energy, creativity and self esteem. These are all symptoms of the psychiatric condition of mania, but you’re probably fine. The persistent linking of mania with rapid thoughts has lead some researchers to suspect that the speed of thought itself, and not necessarily the content of those thoughts, has a direct effect on a person’s mood. Thus merely thinking at a faster pace can create a more positive mood, along with those other symptoms, I mean normal feelings, of creativity, energy, etc.
With this approach as their starting point psychological scientists Emily Pronin and Daniel Wegner, of Princeton and Harvard University respectively, conducted an experiment to elucidate the exact effect of thought speed on mood, independent of the contents of those thoughts. To this end they recruited a number of students to read statements aloud at different speeds, the statements were either fast and positive (eg ‘‘Wow! I feel great!’’) or fast and negative (eg ‘‘I want to go to sleep and never wake up’’) and were contrasted with the reverse combinations, slow/positive, slow/negative. The results showed that the speed of a person’s thinking does indeed have an impact on their mood independent of what they are thinking. Those who read depressing statements fast had a more positive outlook than those who read the depressing statements more slowly.
This work has implications for the treatment of both mania and depression, having manic patients work to slow down their thought processes or those suffering depression increase the speed of theirs might be a more sustainable and empowering (for the patient) method of treating the conditions. Not to mention how this might affect business brainstorming sessions, want to boost your team’s creative output? Just get them doing quick mental exercises to get their brains in the mood. Have some bad news to give? Say it really fast.