Scientists are slowly finding out more about how sadness truly works, and how it affects our thoughts and behaviour. Image Credit: Unsplash/Nik

Think positive, change your attitude, use distractions or shake it off – when you’re feeling sad, you likely try to respond with one of these behaviours that have long been ingrained into our cultures and social systems. At the end of the day, sadness is an emotion we don’t particularly value or care to have around. But scientists are now finding out that it could have some unforeseen advantages.

Click start to play today’s Crossword, where the ‘sad’ emotion hides in one of the answers to the clues.

With the advent of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which measures small changes in blood flow related to brain activity, along with a rise in brain research, scientists are slowly finding out more about how sadness truly works, and how it affects our thoughts and behaviour.

According to a June 2014 report in the US-based Greater Good Magazine, which offers science-based insights from studies conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, here are a few ways in which, sadness can be a beneficial emotion:

1. It improves memory

A field study conducted by UC Berkely found that on unpleasant, rainy days, when people were in a bad mood, they were far more able to clearly remember the details of objects they had seen in a shop. On bright, sunny days, when people were happier, they were less accurate in identifying items in an identical situation. Positive moods seem to impair attention and memory for incidental details, as compared to negative moods. Other similar experiments consistently enforce this idea.

2. It improves judgment

As social creatures, we’re constantly trying to read cues from other people, in order to try to understand and predict their thoughts and behaviours. Studies have found that people are more likely to make incorrect social judgments because of their biases when they are happy. This also extends to figuring out whether something is true or false – people in negative moods performed significantly better at correctly distinguishing true and false claims. Feeling sad has also been found to reduce other common judgmental biases, like the ‘fundamental attribution error’, which is when people attribute intentionality to other people’s behaviour, while ignoring situational factors. People who are sad are also less likely to be swayed by the ‘halo effect’, where judges assume a person with a positive feature (like a pretty face) is likely to have other positive aspects, like kindness or generosity.

3. It increases motivation

Happy people naturally want to maintain their state of happiness – but little effort is needed to change anything. Sad people, on the other hand, are more motivated to change their unpleasant state, because the emotion acts like a mild alarm signal, signalling the need for effort and motivation. People who are sad, then, are more likely to exert themselves and increase their perseverance, since they can see greater potential benefits of making an effort.

4. It can improve some interactions

Happy people are by far, the more assertive and skillful communicators – since they are likely to smile and engage enthusiastically, they are perceived as more likeable than sad people. But a sad mood may help in situations where a more cautious and more attentive communication style is needed. They are likely to produce more polite, elaborate dialogue, since they rely on external cues – this is useful in uncertain and unpredictable interpersonal situations.

What do you think of these findings? Play today’s Crossword and tell us at