Rainy Day Recognition

Rainy days can make your memory shine: Study

People score significantly higher on memory tests on rainy, cloudy days than they do on bright, sunny ones, according to new research that suggests rain drops falling on your head might make you brighter.

People score significantly higher on memory tests on rainy, cloudy days than they do on bright, sunny ones, according to new research that suggests rain drops falling on your head might make you brighter.

“This study is the first to show in a real-life setting that weather-induced mood can have a significant influence on people’s ability to remember casually observed scenes,” scientists from the University of New South Wales School of Psychology report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

And while the psychological world loves to emphasize the upside of staying happy and positive, the finding adds to growing evidence that there’s something to be said for bad moods, too.

The theory is that people tend to be less focused on their surroundings when they’re happy and carefree. A positive mood makes us over confident, says team leader Joseph Forgas. We think we understand what’s going on, but in reality we’re making snap judgments and forget important things. In a negative mood people think things through more thoroughly, he says.

For their study, researchers tested the memories of 73 randomly selected shoppers at a newspaper and stationery shop in Sydney, Australia. The study was carried out on 14 different days, at the same times of the day and using the same clerk, “in order to control for possible confounding factors, such as shop crowding, the clerk’s personality and behaviour, and other random situational variables,” the researchers write.

Customers were tested on either rainy (“negative mood”) days or sunny (“positive mood”) ones, and their moods were reinforced by having either happy or sad music playing in the background.

Ten small objects, including plastic animal figures, a toy canon, a pink piggy bank and tiny toy cars, were randomly displayed on and around the check-out counter.

The customers spent, on average, about five minutes in the shop. After they left, they were approached by a research assistant who asked them to remember and list as many of the objects on the counter as they could remember. The recognition test listed 20 items — 10 that were actually on the counter, and 10 “foils.”

Shoppers on the cloudy, rainy days listed three times more items than customers tested on sunny days. The “negative mood” participants also recalled more items correctly than incorrectly, a pattern that was completely reversed for participants in a “positive mood state,” the researchers say.

The team wondered whether the effects could be due to the fact that people tend to linger in shops longer when the weather is lousy. But when they went back later and surreptitiously recorded the time shoppers spent in the shop and in front of the check-out counter, the total time spent in the shop was the same on rainy and sunny days.

“Remembering objects and situations accurately is often important in everyday life — for example, were my keys on the table when I left? Did I leave my mobile phone on the shelf? How much money was in my purse when I last looked?,” Forgas said in an e-mail to Canwest News.

These kinds of incidental memories of scenes and objects we encounter casually are what gives everyday life structure and continuity. Anything that makes such incidental memories stronger is important.

Other studies have found bad moods make people less susceptible to wrong information and produces more accurate eyewitness memories.

“In forensic practice, people are often asked to remember the details of scenes they only observed casually — was there a stop sign at that intersection? Did the man have a briefcase or not?,” Forgas says. “Eyewitnesses, as well as law enforcement officials, often need to remember such incidental details that may be crucial for interpreting past events.”

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