Sources of Emotions and Moods

Sources of Emotions and Moods

Chapter 4-2

Have you ever said, “I got up on the wrong side of the bed today?” Have you ever snapped at a coworker or family member for no reason? If you have, you probably wonder where those emotions and moods originated. Here we discuss some of the primary influences.


Moods and emotions have a personality trait component, meaning that some people have built-in tendencies to experience certain moods and emotions more frequently than others do. People also experience the same emotions with different intensities; the degree to which they experience them is called their affect intensity (affect intensity – Individual differences in the strength with which individuals experience their emotions) 31 Affectively intense people experience both positive and negative emotions more deeply: when they’re sad, they’re really sad, and when they’re happy, they’re really happy.

Time of Day

Moods vary by the time of day. However, research suggests most of us actually follow the same pattern. Levels of positive affect tend to peak in the late morning (10 a.m.–noon) and then remain at that level until early evening (around 7 p.m.).32 Starting about 12 hours after waking, positive affect begins to drop until midnight, and then, for those who remain awake, the drop accelerates until positive mood picks up again after sunrise. As for negative affect, most research suggests it fluctuates less than positive affect, but the general trend is for it to increase over the course of a day, so that it is lowest early in the morning and highest late in the evening.

A fascinating study assessed moods by analyzing millions of Twitter messages from across the globe. The researchers noted the presence of words connoting positive affect (happy, enthused, excited) and negative (sad, angry, anxious) affect. You can see the trends they observed in the positive affect part of Exhibit 4-3. Daily fluctuations in mood followed a similar pattern in most countries. These results are comparable to what we reported above from previous research. A major difference, though, happens in the evening. Whereas most research suggests that positive affect tends to drop after 7 p.m., this study suggests that it increases before the midnight decline. We’ll have to wait for further research to see which description is accurate. The negative affect trends in this study were more consistent with past research, showing that negative affect is lowest in the morning and tends to increase over the course of the day and evening.

You may wonder what happens for people who work the third shift at night. When our internal circadian process is out of line with our waking hours, our moods and well-being are likely to be negatively affected. However, researchers studying how the body’s inner clock can be adjusted have found that governing our exposure to light may allow us to shift our circadian rhythms.37 Thus, by manipulating light and darkness, someone who is awake at night might have a similar mood cycle to someone who sleeps at night.

Day of the week

Are people in their best moods on the weekends? In most cultures that is true—for example, U.S. adults tend to experience their highest positive affect on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and their lowest on Monday.38 As shown in Exhibit 4-4, again based on the study of Twitter messages, that tends to be true in several other cultures as well. For Germans and Chinese, positive affect is highest from Friday to Sunday and lowest on Monday. This isn’t the case in all cultures, however. As the exhibit shows, in Japan positive affect is higher on Monday than on either Friday or Saturday.

As for negative affect, Monday is the highest negative-affect day across most cultures. However, in some countries, negative affect is lower on Friday and Saturday than on Sunday. It may be that while Sunday is enjoyable as a day off (and thus we have higher positive affect), we also get a bit stressed about the week ahead (which is why negative affect is higher).


When do you think you would be in a better mood—when it’s 70 degrees and sunny, or on a gloomy, cold, rainy day? Many people believe their mood is tied to the weather. However, a fairly large and detailed body of evidence suggests weather has little effect on mood, at least for most people.39 One expert concluded, “Contrary to the prevailing cultural view, these data indicate that people do not report a better mood on bright and sunny days (or, conversely, a worse mood on dark and rainy days).”40 Illusory correlation (illusory correlation – The tendency of people to associate two events when in reality there is no connection) which occurs when we associate two events that in reality have no connection, explains why people tend to think weather influences them. For example, employees may be more productive on bad weather days, a study in Japan and the United States recently indicated, but not because of mood—instead, the worse weather removed some work distractions.41

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As you might imagine, stressful events at work (a nasty e-mail, impending deadline, loss of a big sale, reprimand from the boss, etc.) negatively affect moods. The effects of stress also build over time. As the authors of one study note, “A constant diet of even low-level stressful events has the potential to cause workers to experience gradually increasing levels of strain over time.”42 Mounting levels of stress can worsen our moods, as we experience more negative emotions. Although sometimes we thrive on it, most of us find stress usually takes a toll on our mood. In fact, when situations are overly emotionally charged and stressful, we have a natural response to disengage, to literally look away.43

Social Activities

Do you tend to be happiest when out with friends? For most people, social activities increase a positive mood and have little effect on a negative mood. But do people in positive moods seek out social interactions, or do social interactions cause people to be in good moods? It seems both are true,44 though the type of social activity does matter. Activities that are physical (skiing or hiking with friends), informal (going to a party), or epicurean (eating with others) are more strongly associated with increases in positive mood than events that are formal (attending a meeting) or sedentary (watching TV with friends).45


U.S. adults report sleeping less than adults a generation ago.46 According to researchers and public health specialists, a large portion of the U.S. workforce suffers from sleep deprivation: 41 million workers sleep less than 6 hours per night. Sleep quality affects moods and decision making, and increased fatigue puts workers at risk of disease, injury, and depression.47 Poor or reduced sleep also makes it difficult to control emotions. Even one bad night’s sleep makes us more angry and risk-prone,48 possibly because poor sleep impairs job satisfaction49 and makes us less able to make ethical judgments.50

On the positive side, increased regular sleep enhances creativity, performance, and career success. University of California-San Diego researchers calculated that for employees who do not sleep enough, “a one-hour increase in long-run average sleep increases wages by 16 percent, equivalent to more than a year of schooling.”51 Other researchers are trying to reduce how much sleep is needed for high functioning through drug therapy, hoping to find “something better than caffeine,” said Ying-Hui Fu of the University of California-San Francisco.52


You often hear people should exercise to improve their mood. Does “sweat therapy” really work? It appears so. Research consistently shows exercise enhances peoples’ positive moods.53 While not terribly strong overall, the effects are strongest for those who are depressed.


Do young people experience more extreme positive emotions (so-called youthful exuberance) than older people? Surprisingly, no. One study of people ages 18 to 94 revealed that negative emotions occur less as people get older. Periods of highly positive moods lasted longer for the study’s older participants, and bad moods faded more quickly.54


Many believe women are more emotional than men. Is there any truth to this? Evidence does confirm women experience emotions more intensely, tend to “hold onto” emotions longer than men, and display more frequent expressions of both positive and negative emotions, except anger.55 Evidence from a study of participants from 37 different countries found that men consistently reported higher levels of powerful emotions like anger, whereas women reported more powerless emotions like sadness and fear. Thus, there are some sex differences in the experience and expression of emotions.56 People also tend to attribute men’s and women’s emotions in ways that might be based on stereotypes of typical emotional reactions. One study showed that when viewing pictures of faces, participants interpreted the women’s emotional expressions as being dispositional (related to personality), whereas the men’s expressions were interpreted as situational.57 For example, a picture of a sad woman led observers to believe she had an emotional personality, whereas a picture of sadness in a man was more likely to be attributed to having a bad day. Another study showed that participants were quicker to detect angry expressions on male faces and happy expressions on female faces; neutral faces in men were attributed as more angry and neutral faces in women were interpreted as happy.58 It might seem by now that we all—leaders, managers, and employees alike— operate as unwitting slaves to our emotions and moods. On an internal experiential level, this may be true. Yet we know from our workplace experiences that people aren’t expressing every brief emotion that flits through their consciousness. Let’s put together what we’ve learned about emotions and moods with workplace coping strategies, beginning with emotional labor.

Robbins, Stephen P.; Judge, Timothy A.. Organizational Behavior (Page 108-113). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

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