SCIENCE
12/01/2013 09:20 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2013

'Immunize' Yourself Against Bad Moods? New Research Suggests It May Be Possible

Gallo Images - Hayley Baxter via Getty Images

We've all been there. Work sucks. You head home and turn on the TV--and see nothing but bad news. You and a loved one have a nasty squabble.

Whatever the cause, it doesn't take much to put us in a bad mood. But a new study conducted by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel suggests there's a simple trick for lessening the impact everyday annoyances have on our emotional state.

What's the trick? Repeatedly exposing yourself to the negativity rather than shying away from it. Sounds counterintuitive, but the researchers are convinced it works.

"A bad mood is known to slow cognition," study co-author Dr. Shay Ben-Haim, a researcher at the university, said in a written statement. "We show that, counterintuitively, you can avoid getting into a bad mood in the first place by dwelling on a negative event. If you look at the newspaper before you go to work and see a headline about a bombing or tragedy of some kind, it's better to read the article all the way through and repeatedly expose yourself to the negative information. You will be freer to go on with your day in a better mood and without any negative effects."

For the study, the researchers conducted four separate but related experiments in which people were shown a series of negative and neutral words. The words were rendered in a range of colors.

Previous research has shown that people tend to take longer to name the color of negative words (like "hurt") than neutral words (like "apple").

The researchers found that people who were shown the same negative word more than once were able to identify its color more quickly than people who saw the word only once. To the researchers, that suggested the negative word had a diminished impact on the moods of people who saw it repeatedly--which was then confirmed by questionnaires.

"I hope that the study opens the door for new research and possibly future interventions that can help incorporate the findings also to improve mood and wellbeing," Dr. Ben-Haim told The Huffington Post in an email. "I think that the study as a whole helps to improve our understanding of attention and emotional processing."

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