Can negative mood improve language understanding? Affective influences on the ability to detect ambiguous communication


Can negative mood improve language understanding? Two experiments explored mood effects on people’s ability to correctly identify sentences that lack clear meaning in the absence of further contextual information (ambiguous anaphora). Based on recent affect – cognition theories, we predicted and found that negative affect, induced by film clips, improved people’s ability to detect linguistic ambiguity. An analysis of response latencies (Studies 1 & 2) and recall (Study 2) confirmed that negative mood produced longer and more attentive processing, and a mediational analysis suggested that processing latencies mediated mood effects on detecting linguistic ambiguity. These results are consistent with negative affect selectively promoting a more concrete, vigilant and externally focused accommodative information processing style, involving more detailed attention to the communicative content of a message. The theoretical relevance of these results for recent affect-cognition theories is considered, and the practical implications of the findings for everyday verbal communication and interpersonal behavior are discussed.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 44-49