Do positive emotions improve your thinking skills? This study suggests the answer is ‘yes’.

Research suggests that positivity influences cognitive function. When you’re happy, you perform better. Based on this idea, some positive psychologists believe that maintaining a higher positivity ratio is the key to success. If you maintain a greater balance of positive emotions compared to negative ones, you are more likely to flourish in life and work.

Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada developed the “positivity ratio” by building on earlier research completed by Fredrickson. She created the “broaden and build” theory, which suggests that positive emotions help broaden your awareness and lead to greater self-awareness. Increased self-awareness allows you to build your strengths and develop more meaningful relationships.

A lot of the concepts used by Fredrickson originated with work completed by Alice Isen. Her early research involved studies using three types of tasks – typicality rating, sorting and word association. In a 1984 study, Isen found that those who receive positive emotions categorised stimuli more inclusively.

Basically, the experiments explored the idea that happiness can increase performance when completing tasks that require creativity or ingenuity. The subjects watched a few minutes of a comedy film and then completed a task. Those who watched the comedy film performed better compared to those who didn’t.

Isen and other researchers found that people are better at categorisation when in a positive emotional state. It becomes easier to see the interconnectedness in things and ideas, helping people process information in a more flexible way. Further research also suggests that positive emotions increase attention and engagement, which are also useful in the business world.


Subscribe to our mailing list and receive fornightly tips and videos:


Watching a comedy may not transform the productivity and morale of an entire workforce.

However, this research does suggest that promoting a more positive work environment can lead to greater results.

About the author of this article:

Eleanor Shakiba is a master trainer and coach. Her passion is teaching ‘positive deviants’ to think positively and communicate constructively. A specialist the field of Positive Psychology, Eleanor is author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D practitioners. She also provides coaching and training for trainers and facilitators.