David Wilkinson

Banisher of fears, slayer of anxiety & developer of emotional resilience

One way to break a negative anxiety cycle - mood induction

One way to break a negative anxiety cycle - mood induction

In yesterdays blog I talked about the role of self-focussed attention with anxiety, emotion regulation and emotional resilience. If you remember self focussed attention is where an individual pays more attention and 'listens' more to their internal feelings about something than to any external, rational or more objective evidence. Usually because self- focussed attention is associated with negative mental states the internal dialogue or evidence the individual uses is negative, which makes the situation worse.

Self-focussed attention has been found by researchers to be an issue in a wide range of mental, cognitive and clinical disorders such as depression, emotional reactivity, the whole range of anxieties, phobias, and defensive behaviours, and has, since the early 1970's been the topic of a fair amount of research.

An interesting study which was conducted by a team of researchers in five universities in the US, Canada and the UK was published in 2003 which looked at whether there was a connection between someone's mood and the level of self-focussed attention they engaged in and really importantly for our purposes, whether using mood induction techniques (techniques for changing a person's mood) would have an effect on that individual's level of self-focussed attention. This research came on the back of other studies in which techniques were used to induce happy or sad moods in people and measure, using a recognised self-focussed attention measurement test, to discover if the mood induction had altered the amount of self-focussed attention the participants engaged in.

This particular study examined 79 subjects (42 female and 37 male). They measured the natural amount of self-focussed attention each individual engaged in before the study. Then they played the participants music for just ten minutes, which had been shown in previous studies to induce the moods of happiness, sadness or no mood inducing properties.

The Happy mood music was a version of Bach's Brandenberg Concerto No. 3, played by jazz flutist Hubert Laws. The neutral selection included two Chopin Waltzes: 'No. 11 in G flat' and 'No. 12 in F minor' played by Alexander Brailowsky, and the sad inducing music was Prokofiev's 'Russia under the Mongolian Yoke' played at half speed. You should listen to them. they really do the trick!

Mood induction matters

After each mood induction session the individuals were then tested again for their level of self-focussed attention. The researchers found daily clear evidence that the amount of self-focussed attention dropped significantly when the participants had a happy mood induction compare to the neutral mood induction and likewise the sad mood induction increased significantly the amount of self-focussed attention the participants engaged in.

There are a range of other mood induction techniques which we explore on the Fear Course as they help break they downward cycle of negative feelings > increase in self-focussed attention > maintenance or increase of anxiety and fear.


Green, J.D. et al (2003) Happy mood decreases self-focused attention. British Journal of Social Psychology (2003), 42, 147–157

Wood, J. V., Saltzberg, J. A., & Goldsamt, L. A. (1990). Does affect induce self-focused attention? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 899–908

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