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Happy People More Likely to Try Something New

Familiar things may comfort those feeling blue, but are boring for those in a positive mood, study finds

TUESDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- If you're feeling sad, you're more likely to crave your favorite comfort food than exotic fare at a restaurant you've never eaten at before, because a negative mood makes the familiar more attractive, new psychological research suggests.

And the reverse seems to also be true, the study authors found: When you're happy, you're more likely to embrace the novel and new.

The researchers reached their conclusion by studying people who were presented with random dot patterns and given time to become familiar with the constellation-like patterns. The participants were then told to think about happy or sad times in their lives, and appropriate music was added to the setting to maintain the mood. The investigators then examined how the study participants reacted to the dot patterns, both physically and emotionally.

The participants who were in sad moods preferred familiar patterns, while those who were feeling happier showed no preference, according to the findings published online in the journal Psychological Science.

"When you're happy, known things, familiar things lose their appeal. Novelty, on the other hand, becomes more attractive," Piotr Winkielman, co-author of the new study and psychology professor at the University of California San Diego, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

"The research helps us understand. . . why incumbent politicians seeking re-election fuel a negative, apprehensive mood and then offer up such tried-and-true symbols as the flag and apple pie," Winkielman said.

More information

Mental Health America describes the signs of clinical depression.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Feb. 18, 2010

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