Did you forget ?

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have found that feeling low or sad can make us less likely to remember to carry out everyday tasks – such as posting a letter or returning a call.  

In the study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, the team from the School of Psychology   monitored how reliable people were at carrying out a task at particular times throughout the day and whether their mood at that time affected the likelihood of them completing the task.   

Volunteers were asked to report their mood, from positive to negative, at different times of the day while simultaneously having to remember to send messages at certain time points.   

While there is evidence to suggest that mood can affect how well we remember to carry out tasks, this is the first study to look at this in the ‘real-world’, outside of the laboratory setting.  

The results showed that how the participants were feeling affected their performance on remembering the task. Specifically, as participants’ mood changed from more negative to more positive, they were more likely to remember the task.   

Dr Katharina Schnitzspahn, who co-led the study at the University explained:

“Our results suggest a clear relationship between our emotional states and our cognitive performance and highlights the need to reduce stress and negative feelings in order to help us remember and perform our planned intentions. 

image copyright of Heidi Forbes Öste

Dr Francesco Pupillo, previously of the University of Aberdeen, now at the Institute of Psychology, Goethe University Frankfurt added:

“This is the first time that we have demonstrated how mood can affect prospective memory outside of the laboratory.  

“We have known for some time that negative mood can impact our thinking and memory, but this is another piece of the puzzle that shows the potential of positive mood for helping us remember and complete our tasks.  

“And, yes, perhaps if you have forgotten a special day, or Valentine’s Day – you can maybe get away with it by blaming the pandemic blues.” 

2 replies »

  1. My memory was frazzled by too much medication. I find it helps a lot to write everything on the calendar, which is in a prominent place on the kitchen wall, and check it every day – or even, multiple times in the day if I’m feeling very ‘wonky’. For example – ‘Post card to Ciara’, followed by ‘Ciara’s birthday’. Or even, ‘Get fish out of freezer.’
    I was going to say it’s not so much to do with mood but it is in a way, as if I’m feeling unwell, I also tend to feel ‘down’, and I do tend to forget things more – including the old chestnut of walking into a room and wondering what I had meant to do in that room.
    The calendar doesn’t help with that one, but re-tracing my steps or line of thought, does.
    A big thing is not to let it get to you or get you down – do what you can to remedy it, but don’t beat yourself up about it – there’s no point.

  2. Thinking more about this……I realise that when I’m feeling un-well, or ‘down’, I’m focusing, hard, on just functioning and that could mean that I ‘forget’ things – not so much forgetting as – other things needing to take priory in my awareness.

    I have a cartoon by Gary Larson next to my bed which says “First your pants – then your shoes.” It has been known to happen! Then I swear, take the shoes off again, put my trousers on….and embark on the day! Preferably remembering to put the shoes back on again!

Leave a Reply