As a teenager I spent hours in my room listening to arch-miserabilist pop band the Smiths. I felt they really understood my teenage angst, and my love for them withstands even David Cameron’s unrepentant fandom and Morrissey’s regular and unsavory announcements.
We spend a lot of time and money trying to feel good, but there is also a pleasure in the melancholy that listening to every Smiths’ song played back to back can engender. Alongside teenagers, researchers use various experimental methods for inducing mood states. These are often used in studies which aim to investigate the correlation between mood and neurological function.
Self referential statements
One of the first mood induction procedures was the Velten Mood Induction Procedure. Subjects read aloud self-referent statements, which progress from the relatively neutral to those associated with either a negative or positive mood.
Example of questions – this site suggests that the Velten mood induction procedure should be used as a form of “guided meditation”.
Music can arouse deep emotions in the listener. The majority of studies use classical music, but a wide variety of musical pieces is used to experimentally induce mood states. This paper (update 2018 – broken link) lists music used in forty-one music mood induction procedure studies. The authors find that most musical pieces are used in one study only, but find twelve studies that use Delibes Coppélia to induce happy or elated moods. No mention of the Smiths.
Habitual cinema-blubbers will not be surprised that requesting participants to watch movie clips is a common way to manipulate moods experimentally.
In a 2008 study positive mood was induced by participants watching a 10 minute excerpt from a British comedy series (the actual series itself is not identified alas – Monty Python?). Neutral mood induction involved an excerpt from a nature documentary, and negative mood was brought about by an excerpt from a film about dying from cancer.
According the many authors film and music based mood induction is the most effective.
Another technique is to use verbal feedback. This 2008 (update 2018 – broken link) study asked participants to complete a series of anagrams and then report their answers through an intercom system. To induce a negative mood state they received insults in return.
After the 4th anagram, the experimenter said: “Look, I can barely hear you. I need you to speak louder please.” After the 8th anagram, the experimenter said in a louder and more frustrated voice: “Hey, I still need you to speak louder.” After the 12th anagram, the experimenter said in a very frustrated voice: “Look, this is the third time I’ve had to say this! Can’t you follow directions? Speak louder!
Forming mental images/autobiographical recall.
This approach can use emotionally charged sentences, with subjects asked to try and experience the affective state they would feel if the situation were real.
“Imagine that you just won the lottery and you will have all the money you could ever want” (paper) (update 2018 – broken link)
(These lottery winners are in the lucky situation of not having to use their imagination).
In a similar approach (update 2018 – broken link) participants were instructed to write a short essay about an event they experienced that provoked specific feelings such as anger or sadness.
Combining methods and effectiveness
The most effective mood induction procedures may combine two procedures in the belief that multiple interactions contribute additively to mood. One type of induction occupies the foreground attention, whilst the other forms the background atmosphere. So, for example the Velten mood induction procedure has been combined with music mood induction.
The effectiveness of mood induction procedures is questioned by some authors, who dispute whether they can produce moods of sufficient intensity. Another debate concerns whether the results of experiments using mood induction result from the expectations that the protocol induces in participants, rather than because of the induced mood per se (demand characteristics).
17 June 2018 reviewed – some of the links to papers are broken – sorry.