adorable polar bears

Sadness Can Make You a Better Reader, According to Science

If you’re a bookworm, then chances are you know what the blues feel like. By blues I don’t mean the sophisicated genre of music your grandparents probably listen to, I mean the sort of invisible, heavy cloak of sadness that we wear in our lives—some every day, and others every so often.


Sadness is a feeling that every person (maybe even every animal, I don’t know) can identify with. Yet the extent and duration differs dramatically. Sadness isn’t an emotion one may typically see as having advantageous effects, but, according to a recent scientific study, it has a huge advantage when it comes to reading. 


According to The Hechinger Report, a scientific study found a link between sadness and analysis, suggesting that readers who experience sadness are better at thinking critically and analyzing ideas that aren’t explicitly stated on the page. 


polar bear adorable

Image Via Daisy Gillardini/Global News


Sounds like a pretty good perk, right? According to The Hechinger Report, a team of researchers elicited an experiment in which they randomly assigned 160 adults one of two short video clips. Half of the participants viewed an emotional scene from the sports drama The Champ (1979), and the other half viewed scenes from the comedy sketch series Whose Line Is It Anyway?


Following the viewings, all of the participants read a passage about the survival of polar bears in the arctic and answered a subsequent reading comprehension test. The participants who were “sad” following The Champ scene were allegedly significantly better at answering the questions. For example, they were better able to infer ideas that weren’t explicitly written on the page as compared to the participants who viewed the comedy series.


To confirm the validity of the results, the research team performed another trial with a larger group of participants. Once again their findings pointed to a higher performance on the part of the sad participants when it came to analysis and inference. 


“We found that deep learning was better with sadness,” said Caitlin Mills. Mills is one of three authors who published the study, “Being Sad Is Not Always Bad: The Influence of Affect on Expository Text Comprehension.” It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Discourse Processes in October 2017.


“We shouldn’t take away from this, ‘Let’s induce sadness!’,” Mills warned. “The main implication is, what the student is experiencing is affecting how they learn.”


The connection between emotions and behavior (in this case learning) does provide a silver lining for those too familiar with feelings of sadness. 




Featured Image Courtesy of Bored Panda