Understanding mood



Last Update: 12/Jun/2023

Raising emotional awareness and the acceptance of all moods – the good and the bad – improves an individual’s psychological flexibility (Hayes et al., 2011, Ried et al 2011). If we understand mood, and what impacts it; if we understand the significance of the actions that become available through mood; we can act in a committed way to promote wellbeing. Psychologically flexible individuals know that by changing their actions, they are likely to get different results, so they are flexible in their approach to achieving what they want in life (Hayes et al., 2011).

The Circumplex Model of Affect

We learn about emotions by organizing and summarizing our knowledge into a cognitive structure (Russell, 1980). In turn, the cognitive structure helps to shape the perception and interpretation of specific events. However, mood is often complex. Consequently, people have difficulty assessing, discerning, describing and understanding their own moods. This difficulty predominantly arises as individuals do not experience, or recognize, emotions or moods as isolated, discrete entities, rather they recognize emotions and moods as ambiguous and overlapping experiences.

Historically, factor-analytic evidence has led most psychologists to describe mood as a set of dimensions, such as displeasure, distress, depression, excitement etc., with each dimension independent of the other. However, there is emerging and strong evidence that rather than being independent, affective states are related to each other in a highly systematic fashion. The evidence suggests that a spatial or two-dimensional model in which all moods fall can represent these interrelationships. The Circumplex Model of Affect (Russell, 1980) provides a framework for us to be more aware of our mood, and better understand the interrelationship of our affective states. The Circumplex Model of Affect proposes that all moods arise from two fundamental neurophysiological systems, one related to valence, that is a pleasure–displeasure continuum, and the other to arousal, or alertness, that is an activation-deactivation continuum (Russell, 1980). Each affective state can be understood as a linear combination of these two dimensions, or as varying degrees of both valence (pleasure–displeasure) and arousal (activation-deactivation). Upon this, layers of various cognitive processes that interpret and refine these affective states, according to how the event, experience and context are constructed and responded to (Posner, Russell, & Peterson, 2005).

The Circumplex Model of Affect (Russell, 1980) provides a strong conceptualisation of mood and a basis for distinguishing among, and selecting key emotions. It provides a model that may promote psychological flexibility, providing a mechanism through which individuals can become aware of, and make contact with their emotion in the present moment. The Circumplex Model of Affect is consistent with many recent findings from behavioural, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging, and developmental studies of affect. The model is well-researched (see for example Posner et al 2005; Yik et al 2002; Yik et al 2011; Evmenenko &Teixeira, 2020 etc) and well-validated (see for example Blas, 2000; Russell & Pratt, 1980; Remmington et al. 2000; Yik et al., 2000; Yik et al., 2000), is suitable for use across multiple cultures and languages (Posner, Russell & Peterson, 2005; Russel, 1989), and offers a sound theoretical approach and a powerful statistical and methodological tool for understanding and managing mood.