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Mood booster: why sunshine may be affecting your decision-making

If you believe you’re happier on sunny days – and perhaps even make better decisions due to this blue sky-induced mood – you’re not imagining it.

A Deakin study found that business leaders, for one, are more optimistic about their company’s profit outlook when the sun is shining, suggesting investors might want to check the weather forecast before making financial decisions.

In the first large-scale study of the nuanced ways in which emotions affect top executives, Deakin Business School’s Associate Professor Edward Podolski analysed a large sample of earnings data from US public firms, to determine the role and economic consequences of the weather in shaping the judgment of corporate executives.

He found that managerial profit forecasts were highly sensitive to the average sunshine conditions in the days immediately before delivering earning reports.

When they were exposed to more sunshine, executives tended to overstate future earnings. But when the skies weren’t so sunny, they tended to take a more pessimistic view.

Assoc. Prof. Podolski says while it’s well accepted that top executives’ personality traits, such as narcissism or thrill seeking, affect their choices, this was the first study to show emotional states also influenced corporate decisions.

Why does sunshine have an effect on mood?

The assumption that sunshine improves our mood is based on a well-developed body of literature in neuroscience and clinical psychology, Assoc. Prof. Podolski says.

‘There’s really a wealth of evidence that shows that sunshine stimulates a gland that leads to the release of certain hormones (such as serotonin), which results in greater alertness, as well as just what we’d conventionally call better mood.’

And while the effects of sunshine can vary among individuals, and those living in different locations, Assoc. Prof. Podolski says there’s a clear link between sunshine and optimism generally.

‘Once you control for those differences between individuals, the fact is for a single individual they will be in a better mood when they are exposed to more sunshine.’

How can this affect decision-making?

Ever made an ill-considered decision while feeling down?

Well, consider the opposite effects of being in a sunny, upbeat state of mind.

‘One’s judgment of the future state of the world very much influences the decisions we make today,’ Assoc. Prof. Podolski says.

‘So if we have a very optimistic evaluation of what the outcome will be of a certain action today, we are more likely to take it, than if we have a negative valuation of a future state of affairs.’

'Once you control for those differences between individuals, the fact is for a single individual they will be in a better mood when they are exposed to more sunshine.'

Associate Professor Edward Podolski,
Department of Finance, Deakin Business School

What can this mean for students?

Whether you’re sitting in a boardroom, or studying from home, sunshine remains an important factor in your mood, Assoc. Prof. Podolski says.

And in turn, your mood will be an important factor in your level of motivation.

‘As a student, you’re more likely to actually get positive outcomes and put in the hard yards in your studies if your assessment is more positive about the outcomes of putting in more work,’ he says.

‘If you have a positive view about the future, a positive view about your job prospects, you’re more likely to be enthusiastic and energetic and put in the hard work, which will then probably results in better grades – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way.’

Be aware of external factors when making a big decision

Interestingly, Assoc. Prof. Podolski says studies have shown that spring is the time when sunshine can have the most powerful affect on your mood – ‘potentially because during summer and winter, people spend less time outdoors because it’s either too hot or too cold’.

So if you suspect your decisions – for example what to study at uni, or which job to apply for – aren’t being fully driven by just your own rational thought processes, it’s worth trying to counteract this.

‘It’s actually not a bad thing to be surrounded by people – whether they be parents, friends etc – who provide a critical assessment,’ Assoc. Prof. Podolski says.

‘So to challenge the decisions that one is making, just to ensure that those kind of factors that are biological, but beyond our control, don’t put us on the wrong path or result in us making the wrong decision.’

That may be especially pertinent on a cold, bleak day.

Use sunshine to your advantage

Being in a positive mood has a huge effect on decision-making, but productivity too, Assoc. Prof. Podolski says.

So do what you can to lift yourself up, including making the most of those sunny days.

‘Whenever there’s a sunny day, go out for a walk – try and get as much of that serotonin in your brain as possible.’

He says mood isn’t a bad thing.

‘Don’t be like a robot,’ Assoc. Prof. Podolski says. ‘But just be aware of the fact that it affects your decisions, because then you have a little bit more control over the decisions you make.’

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Associate Professor Edward Podolski
Associate Professor Edward Podolski
Department of Finance, Deakin Business School

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