Tools for Changing the World

Social psychology for social good

Some (most) like it hot

August 15th, 2011

happy springThere’s a general perception that it’s easier to be happy when the weather is good – and it’s generally true: a 1983 study found that on sunny days, people reported themselves to be happier, more satisfied with their lives, and less interested in making changes than they were on rainy days.

This effect on our moods also influences our behaviour in all kinds of ways:

  • Consumers tend to spend more when they’re happy, and research has shown that the more we’re exposed to sunlight, the more we’re willing to spend.
  • We’re nicer people when we’re in a good mood, and study participants tend to be more willing to help others when the weather is better.
  • Happier people make more optimistic choices – and stock market returns tend to be higher on sunny days.

However, weather affects more than our moods. It can also affect the way we think, and therefore the kinds of decisions we make.

Deep in ThoughtOne striking study looked at the factors affecting admissions to an American university. The researchers analyzed the recommendations made for 682 undergraduate applications with respect to the degree of cloud cover on the day each application was reviewed. They found that on cloudier days, the reviewers gave more weight to the applicants’ scholastic abilities, while on sunny days, they focussed more on non-academic attributes. Differences in cloud cover could increase an applicant’s chance of admission by nearly 12%!

The researchers noted that this reflects the results of other studies, which have shown that we tend to think analytically and focus on details when our mood is low. When we are happier, we value our experiences more, consider a wider range of factors and make more generalizations. So, on cloudy days, the reviewers focussed on academic details closely related to the decision on whether to admit the applicant, while on sunny days, they looked more broadly at other characteristics.

You can’t choose the weather (or if you can, please get in touch because I have definite plans for you), but you can take it into account when interpreting responses to your actions. If your audience appears uninterested on a rainy day, perhaps you need to provide more data and details to allow them to analyze what you’re offering. If they aren’t interested on a sunny day, it might help to use more examples and stories or provide a sense of the “big picture”.

They say that everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Now you can do something about it – or at least about its effects – so I don’t want to hear any more grousing from any of you.

At least until the sun goes in.

Note to readers: There won’t be a post this Thursday – I’m enjoying the sunshine on holiday! See you next Monday.

1 comment on 'Some (most) like it hot'

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  1. Lauralee Starritt

    18 Aug 11 at 7:11 pm

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