Description: Walking is good for you. Walking makes you happier. No doubt you’ve heard one or the other of these statements and probably more than once. Think for a moment about how you would assess the hypothesis that simply walking improves your mood (makes you happier). Based on the methodological discussion in one or another of your psychology courses one of the first things that should come to mind is the huge array of confounds or variables that might also have a causal influence on happiness and could be correlated with walking. Certainly walking requires walking (duh!) but it could also involve being in nature, getting fresh air, having social contact, satisfaction at doing something that will raise your level of fitness or simply the expectation that being active is good for you all of which can make you feel happier and all of which could be associated with a great many things other than just walking. So, how would you design a study to assess whether or not there is a simple straightforward causal relationship between the act of simply walking in the improvement of one’s mood state (becoming happier)? After you have thought this through read the article linked below to see how the research studies it discusses address these issues.
Source: Walking lift your mood, even when you don’t expect it to, Christian Jarrett, Research Digest, The British Psychological Society.
Date: October 21, 2016
Photo Credit: https://giphy.com/gifs/P8shjolhEXkoo
The researchers, Jeffrey Miller and Zlatan Kriznan, whose research is discussed in the linked article, designed several studies to control for the myriad of potential confounds in the relationship between walking and mood improvement. They argue that their finding of a positive relationship between simply walking and having your mood improve is a reflection of our evolutionary history. We had to move to find food and other rewards meaning that positive emotions and movement are closely linked throughout our evolutionary history. In a series of studies, the authors showed that simply walking regardless of where you were walking had a positive impact on participants’ mood states. In their third study, they had participants watch the same art video while sitting on, standing on, or walking on a treadmill after being told that they were in a study looking at the effects on people’s mood states of proximity to gym equipment. The findings clearly indicated that simply walking has a positive impact on mood. What is important about these findings is not so much the finding, given that it maps fairly easily on our commonsense understanding of the value walking, but rather the methodologies used by the researchers to sort through the potential confounding variables can show that if they’re all controlled for there still seems to be a causal connection between walking positive mood state.
Questions for Discussion:
- What factors might be correlated with walking and correlated with increases in one’s positive mood state?
- Other than the methods used in the study described above are there other techniques you could think of that might be useful in helping us to sort out something of the relationship between walking and mood state?
- Can you think of other things that are generally understood to be true that might also benefit from investigation using the sort of methodological rigor employed by the researchers whose work was discussed above?
References (Read Further):
Miller, J. C., & Krizan, Z. (2016). Walking Facilitates Positive Affect (Even When Expecting the Opposite). https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Zlatan_Krizan/publication/301562720_Walking_Facilitates_Positive_Affect_Even_When_Expecting_the_Opposite/links/576a9c3408aef2a864d1e5e5.pdf
Jarrett, C. (2011). The Rough Guide to Psychology. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.
We’re happier when busy but our instinct is for idleness, https://digest.bps.org.uk/2010/07/21/were-happier-when-busy-but-our-instinct-is-for-idleness/