Does your brain work better when you’re happy? Use this app to find out

If the answer's yes, workplaces may have to provide cake

Happiness is a popular area for scientific study, not least because we all want to know how to get more of it. But while we’ve seen plenty of discussion of whether intelligent people are happier, the question of whether feeling happy increases your brainpower is new to us.

It’s a fascinating question, and one the Hungry Mind Lab at Goldsmiths University are working hard to answer. In their words:

“We want to know how mood influences our cognitive performance. It is possible that our brains work better when we are happy and relaxed and worse when we are upset and distressed. But the opposite may also be the case: being a little happy may make our brains work harder to overcome the situation and move on.”

Rather than completing an arduous traditional study, they’ve gone about it in a much more interesting – and modern – way. They’ve made an app.

Available free on iOS, Moo-Q tracks your mood (using self-reporting questions, like “Do you feel awake?” and a sliding scale from “Not at all” to “Extremely”), then sets you some quick tasks to measure short-term memory, processing speed, and working memory. The whole thing takes no more than 2 minutes.

Your results are plotted on a series of ridiculously interesting charts:

(‘Positive affect’ refers to feeling positive emotions – enthusiasm, energy, confidence – and ‘negative affect’ means experiencing negative emotions like distress, anxiety and anger.)

We spoke to Hannah Rachel Scott, Lab Co-Ordinator at the Hungry Mind Lab, to find out more.

Gadgette: Tell us a bit about the Hungry Mind Lab. How long’s it been going, and what else have you guys done?

Hannah: The Hungry Mind Lab is the brainchild of our lab director Dr. Sophie von Stumm, who started it up at the beginning of last year as a way to bring together all her different research interests.

We’re based at Goldsmiths University of London and focus on innovative assesment methods in behavioural science, so finding new ways to collect data about personality and individual differences.

We spent a fair amount of last year experimenting with web surveys to measure curiosity, which was fun.

We’ve just started another project called imQ, which will hopefully mirror moo-Q as an app that tests and improves imagination. We’re still in the research phase, working out exactly how to measure imagination so that we can develop exercises that people could do to build their imaginative and creative skills. Plans are that we’ll release the imQ app next year.

Gadgette: How did the Moo-Q project come about?

Hannah: Moo-Q is our first foray in to the world of mobile apps, Sophie thought that it could be a good way of sourcing participants for our research. Her expertise is in personality and intelligence, so it measures and compares both together.

Gadgette: What are you hoping to achieve with Moo-Q? Will there be a report on your findings, and if so, when?

We want to see if using apps and tech in general is a good way of crowdsourcing research participants. One of the biggest barriers in all scientific research is getting people to come in to labs and spend time doing tests, so if people can participate on their phones in their own time and wherever they are, scientists can get bigger samples from a huge range of people and therefore more reliable data from the population.

If we get a good response to the app, it could set the tone for a new way of gathering information for science. Also, an app is a fun way of taking part in research. You get immediate feedback from your performance, so you can measure yourself on an individual level.

On a psychological level, we want to see if there’s a meaningful relationship between mood and cognitive performance. For example, is memory better when people are happy, or processing speed slower when people are lethargic?

We’ll publish our findings through the academic route in a scientific journal. When this will be depends on how quickly we collect the data from app users and then how quickly we analyse write it up and get it peer-reviewed etc. Being optimistic, I’d say it would be published next year.

Gadgette: Can we expect to see Moo-Q on Android or web?

Hannah: At the moment, we only have an iPhone app developed, but if there’s demand, we’ll definitely consider getting it developed for Android. I’m an Android fan myself!

Gadgette: And finally – why the name Moo-Q? It sounds like a cow’s Mensa results.

Hannah: The name just came from combining Mood and IQ. We’ve prepared ourselves to receive cow jokes, so if you have a good one, tweet us!

Moo-Q is available now, free on iOS. Find out more about the Hungry Mind Lab (we can’t wait to try that imagination app) on their website.

Main image © iStock/Elenathewise

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.