Can thinking happy thoughts really make you happier?



Positive mental imagery improved people’s mood and behavior:

Experimental evidence using picture-word cues has shown that generating mental imagery has a causal impact on emotion, at least for images prompted by negative or benign stimuli. It remains unclear whether this finding extends to overtly positive stimuli and whether generating positive imagery can increase positive affect in people with dysphoria. Dysphoric participants were assigned to one of three conditions, and given instructions to generate mental images in response to picture-word cues which were either positive, negative or mixed (control) in valence. Results showed that the positive picture-word condition increased positive affect more than the control and negative conditions. Participants in the positive condition also demonstrated enhanced performance on a behavioural task compared to the two other conditions. Compared to participants in the negative condition, participants in the positive condition provided more positive responses on a homophone task administered after 24 hours to assess the durability of effects. These findings suggest that a positive picture-word task used to evoke mental imagery leads to improvements in positive mood, with transfer to later performance. Understanding the mechanisms underlying mood change in dysphoria may hold implications for both theory and treatment development.


► A mental imagery generation task was tested on a sample of dysphoric participants.

► We examined changes in depressed mood, behaviour and cognitive bias.

► Positive, negative and mixed valence (control) imagery conditions were contrasted.

► Positive imagery led to an improvement in mood and behaviour

Source: “Fishing for Happiness: The Effects of Generating Positive Imagery on Mood and Behaviour” from Behaviour Research and Therapy

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