Happy-and-smarter or Happy-but-shallower?

Sidi, Ackerman, and Erez (2017) examined the effect of positive affect on metacognitive processes. In two experiments, they manipulated affect by showing pictures from a collection of standardized photos designed to induce positive and neutral affects. Participants were given 40 general knowledge questions asking the year for which something happened. For the first experiment, when participants could determine the answer interval, the positive affect group outperformed the neutral affect group. Both groups were overconfident but the positive affect group was more overconfident than the neutral group. When participants were given a fixed answer interval, there were no differences in performance and only the positive affect group remains overconfident of their answers.

The same task was used in the second experiment with the addition of a picture of a pseudo asker attached to each question to make the questions seem more important. The experimenters wanted to examine whether the negative effects of positive affect on metacognitive monitoring can be reduced by making participants perceive the questions as more important. Consistent with the findings in Experiment 1, the positive affect group only outperform the neutral group when they could determine the answer interval. For the metacognitive measures, there were no differences between the neutral and positive affect group.

The results suggested that positive affect enhanced cognitive processes when it is coupled with learner-control. This means that when participants were not given a restriction for their answers, they perform better when they are feeling more positive. However, the influence of positive affect disappeared when participants had a restriction to their answers. The results appear to be in line with the “happier-and-smarter” hypothesis where positive affect enhances cognitive functioning. However, positive affect also increased participants’ overconfidence suggesting that instead of "happier-but-shallower", people are more prone to bias in their monitoring in the presence of positive affect. The overconfidence in the presence of positive effect was reduced when the task was framed as more important to increase task engagement.

This study examined the relationship among affect, cognition, and metacognition, showing that these three factors influence each other. The authors acknowledge that this is just the beginning of research where theories of metacognition, cognition, and affect are integrated. More studies are needed to not only understand this complex relationship, but also to identify the situations in which students' bias in monitoring can be reduced to optimize learning.

Sidi, Y., Ackerman, R., & Erez, A. (2017). Feeling happy and (over) confident: the role of positive affect in metacognitive processes. Cognition and Emotion, 1-9.

More information