2011. Vol.2, No.5, 445-449
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.25069
Prior Negative Mood Buffers Some Individuals from Subsequent
Negative Events: The Moderating Role of Neuroticism
Weiting Ng
SIM University, Singapore City, Singapore.
Received May 30th, 2011; revised July 1st, 2011; accepted August 2nd, 2011.
The effects of mood on cognition are well-documented. However, would mood influence subsequent emotional
reactions? The present research shows that prior moods interact with neuroticism to influence subsequent emo-
tional experiences. Low-neuroticism individuals who initially felt negative subsequently experienced less nega-
tive emotions toward a slightly unpleasant task, relative to those who initially felt positive. Conversely, there
were no mood effects on high-neuroticism individuals. This demonstrates that surprisingly, a prior negative,
rather than positive, mood buffers low- but not high-neuroticism individuals from the effect of a subsequent un-
pleasant event on negative emotions. The possible mechanism underlying this effect—negative mood repair—is
also discussed.
Keywords: Neuroticism, Mood Effects, Buffering Effects, Negative Emotions, Mood Repair
Numerous studies have documented that moods influence
cognition and these mood effects on cognitive processes are
moderated by personality differences (e.g., Smith & Petty, 1995;
Rusting, 1998). But would prior moods also color people’s
subsequent emotions? Would someone initially feeling un-
happy feel better or worse, or remain as unhappy, after another
slightly negative event? And would this depend on personality
differences? This paper examines whether neuroticism moder-
ates prior mood effects on subsequent emotions.
Mood States a nd C og n i t ion
Bower’s associative network theory (1981, 1991) conceptu-
alized emotions as nodes that are linked to related concepts.
Experiencing an emotion activates the node, and activation
spreads throughout the network to other associated concepts,
such as memories and beliefs. This produces a mood-congruent
effect, whereby information or memories that are congruent
with the activated mood state are more easily retrieved or learnt
because these associations have been activated. In other words,
after a pleasant mood induction, individuals encode information
more positively, recall more positive memories, and make more
favorable associations; after an unpleasant mood induction,
individuals make more negative associations (e.g., Bower, 1981;
Rusting, 1998).
Although there is robust evidence of mood-congruent effects
(e.g., Aspinwall, 1998; Singer & Salovey, 1988), conflicting
findings of mood-incongruent effects also exist. In field and
laboratory studies involving natural and induced moods, Parrott
and Sabini (1990) found that participants in sad moods recalled
memories that were less negative than those recalled by par-
ticipants in happy moods. One possible mechanism that could
explain the occurrence of mood-incongruent effects is the mo-
tivation to repair negative mood states. People may attempt to
regulate or eliminate their negative moods by retrieving posi-
tive memories and making positive associations, resulting in
mood-incongruent effects. Conversely, people in positive
moods are motivated to maintain these moods, and would re-
trieve positive memories or make positive associations, hence
producing mood-congruent effects.
There is some evidence to support this mood-management
postulation. Josephson, Singer, and Salovey (1996) found that
people who recalled positive memories after a negative mood
induction became more positive than those who recalled nega-
tive memories, indicating that the retrieval of positive memo-
ries helped them regulate their negative moods. In addition,
Rusting and DeHart (2000) showed that mood-incongruent
memory retrieval occurred for participants who were assigned
to a mood-repair condition, whereas mood-congruent retrieval
occurred for those who stayed focused on the negative events.
This mood-management hypothesis was strengthened by find-
ings that individuals high in negative mood regulation traits
(e.g., high Negative Mood Regulation scores) showed stronger
mood-incongruent retrieval effects than individuals low in such
traits. Conversely, individuals low in negative mood regulation
expectancies showed stronger mood-congruent retrieval effects
(Rusting & DeHart, 2000). Recent experimental studies con-
firming that higher negative mood regulation expectancies
linked to more successful negative affect repair (Hemenover,
Augustine, Shulman, Tran, & Barlett, 2008) further supported
this conclusion.
Interactive Effects of Personality and Mood on
Personality differences can also moderate mood effects on
cognition. For example, Smith and Petty (1995) found that
individual differences in self-esteem interacted with mood to
produce mood-incongruent effects—high (but not low) self-
esteem individuals who experienced a negative mood induction
generated more positive memories and recalled more positive
headlines than those who experienced a neutral mood induction.
Individual differences in coping dispositions also yielded dif-
ferent mood effects. Repressers showed mood-incongruent
effects and recalled happy memories and generated pleasant
thoughts after an unpleasant mood induction, whereas nonrep-
ressers displayed mood-congruent effects (Boden & Baumeister,
1997). These findings illustrate how the effects of mood on
cognition are influenced by personality traits.
The importance of considering mood effects on cognition in
tandem with personality effects was highlighted in Rusting’s
(1998) review. She proposed that temporary mood states and
stable personality traits interact to influence emotional process-
ing in various cognitive areas, such as attention, interpretation
and judgment, recall, and autobiographical memory. Her review
documented numerous studies that yielded consistent evidence
showing that personality traits interact with mood states to
produce mood-congruent or mood-incongruent effects in the
areas of memory and judgment. The preponderance of evidence
substantiates the conclusion that effects of mood on cognition
are partly contingent on one’s personality traits, and neither
should be considered in isolation.
The Present Research
Extending on previous research that focused on the interac-
tive effects between personality and mood states on cognition,
this study investigated whether personality and moods also
interact to influence subsequent emotional experiences. That is,
do one’s feelings after a mildly unpleasant event depend on
one’s prior mood and personality? The effects on cognition
should translate to emotional experiences as emotion and cog-
nitive constructs (e.g., memory) are associated concepts and
should be similarly activated (/influenced). For instance, func-
tional imaging revealed that mood-congruent effects on mem-
ory arose because of the neural mechanisms involved in the
associative networks (Lewis, Critchley, Smith, & Dolan, 2005).
Specifically, the brain regions involved in the encoding of emo-
tional information were also involved in retrieval. This suggests
that processes responsible for mood effects on cognition apply
similarly to emotion.
The current research focused on the personality trait, neu-
roticism, because there was evidence that mood-incongruent
effects on memory and judgment occurred for individuals who
scored higher in negative mood regulation tendencies (Rusting
& DeHart, 2000). Moreover, individuals high in neuroticism or
negative affectivity showed stronger mood-congruent effects
and recalled more negative words and made more negative
judgments after a negative mood induction than those low in
these traits (Rusting, 1999). This suggests that neuroticism
differences in mood regulation tendencies influence whether
mood-incongruent or mood-congruent effects on cognition
occur, and could similarly influence mood effects on emotional
reactions to subsequent events. Past research has also estab-
lished that individual differences in affect repair ability account
for one source of individual differences in negative affect. Indi-
vidual differences in negative mood regulation expectancies
predicted repair ability; specifically those with higher expec-
tancies showed larger decreases in negative affect and larger
increases in positive affect (Hemenover et al., 2008). Similarly,
attempts at negative mood regulation predicted negative emo-
tions, and importantly, these differences in negative mood
regulation mediated the relation between neuroticism and nega-
tive emotions, accounting for neuroticism differences in nega-
tive emotions (Ng & Diener, 2009). Therefore, it reasons to
expect that neuroticism differences would moderate the effects
of prior mood, and hence affect subsequent emotional experi-
The goal of this study was to determine whether prior mood
would impact the effect of a subsequent unpleasant event on
negative emotions, and if this would be moderated by neuroti-
cism. Would a prior positive or negative mood buffer individu-
als from subsequent negative events, and would this differ for
individuals varying in neuroticism? In life, people often ex-
perience multiple events in succession. This research hence
enables us to examine how one reacts to subsequent unpleasant
events after encountering an initial negative event. It should be
emphasized that the “mood-incongruent effects” terminology
used in this study refers to effects on emotional experiences,
not on cognition, as traditionally used in the literature.
Based on past research evidence documenting that individu-
als higher in negative mood regulation expectancies showed
mood-incongruent effects on judgment and memory, the hy-
pothesis of this study was that after experiencing an initial
negative mood, low-neuroticism individuals would show mood-
incongruent effects for subsequent emotional experiences.
Specifically, they would feel less negative toward a subse-
quent mildly stressful task than those who first experienced a
positive mood induction. In contrast, high-neuroticism indi-
viduals should not show any mood effects, and would feel
negative after the stressful second task, regardless of their
initial mood.
One hundred and thirty-two undergraduates (68 males and 64
females) from a Midwestern US university participated in the
experiment for partial course credit in an introductory psychol-
ogy course. Participants were randomly assigned to experience
a positive or negative mood induction. Participants in the posi-
tive mood induction recalled and wrote about something very
positive that happened in their lives, whereas participants in the
negative mood induction recalled and wrote about something
very negative that happened. As a manipulation check of the
mood induction effectiveness, participants’ reactivity to the
mood induction was measured (1 = extremely negative; 5 =
neither negative nor positive; 9 = extremely positive). Next, to
let participants experience a mildly unpleasant second task,
they worked on a difficult analytical reasoning task comprising
six questions for ten minutes. An example of an analytical
question used is illustrated here:
An island has exactly seven villages—S, T, U, V, X, Y, and
Z—and three roads—Routes 1, 2, and 3. The following is a
complete listing of the road connections on the island: Route 1
has its ends at S and U, and passes through T only. Route 2 has
its ends at T and U, and passes through V only. Route 3 has its
ends at X and Z, and passes through Y only.
Directly connected villages are those villages between which
there is a road connection that passes through no other village
on the way from one to the other.
Which one of the following villages is directly connected to
the most other villages?
W. NG 447
Table 1.
Correlations between neuroticism, reactivity to mood induction, and
subsequent negative emotions.
(A) T; (B) U; (C) V; (D) X; (E) Y
All participants then received slightly unpleasant feedback
stating that they performed below the 50th percentile. After that,
they reported the extent to which they currently felt these nega-
tive emotions (disappointment, frustration, sadness, and anxi-
ety), using a 7-point scale (1 = not at all; 4 = somewhat; 7 =
very strongly). The ratings were averaged to provide an overall
negative emotion score (M = 3.16, SD = 1.21, α = .83). At the
end of the study, a twenty-item neuroticism scale based on the
Big Five (International Personality Item Pool, IPIP; Goldberg et
al., 2006) was also administered. The reliability of the neuroti-
cism score (M = 2.49, SD = .64, α = .91) was good.
Negative mood induction Positive mood induction
N Reactivity N Reactivity
Reactivity –.29* 1.00 –.17 1.00
NE .55*** –.01 .18 –.07
Note: N = neuroticism; NE = negative emotions to second task; * p < .05; *** p < .001.
cism was significant, t(127) = 4.69, β = .39, p < .001.
High-neuroticism individuals experienced stronger negative
emotions than low-neuroticism individuals. The mood x neu-
roticism interaction was also significant, t(127) = –2.62, β =
–.21, p = .01. As predicted, tests of the simple slopes con-
firmed that mood had a significant effect for individuals low in
neuroticism (t(127) = 2.12, β = .30, p = .036), but not for indi-
viduals high in neuroticism (t(127) = –.86, β = –.13, ns).
Low-neuroticism individuals showed a mood-incongruent
effect—those who initially experienced an unpleasant mood
reacted less negatively to the second task than those who ini-
tially experienced a pleasant mood. Mean negative emotions
were estimated from the coefficients of regression equations
for participants who were high (+1 SD) or low (–1 SD) in
neuroticism and illustrated in Figure 1 (Aiken & West, 1991).
Viewed differently, the significant interaction also demon-
strated that among those who initially felt unpleasant,
low-neuroticism individuals reacted less negatively to the
subsequent event than high-neuroticism individuals (t(127) =
4.94, β = .61, p < .001). Conversely, for those who initially felt
pleasant, there were no neuroticism differences in emotional
reactions to the unpleasant second task (t(127) = 1.61, β = .18,
The manipulation check confirmed that the mood induction
was effective. Participants in the negative mood induction (M =
4.00, SD = 1.49) reacted more negatively than those in the posi-
tive mood induction (M = 7.04, SD = 1.28), t(130) = 12.59, p
< .001. Preliminary analyses indicated that participants ran-
domly assigned to the two mood induction groups did not differ
in neuroticism, t(130) = –1.53, ns. The two groups (positive
induction: M = 3.29, SD = 1.18; negative induction: M = 3.03,
SD = 1.24) also did not differ in subsequent negative emotions,
t(130) = 1.21, ns. Preliminary correlations also indicated that
neuroticism was related to stronger reactivity to the negative
mood induction and higher subsequent negative emotions, but
not for the positive mood induction (see Table 1).
The regression examined how induced mood, mean-centered
neuroticism and their interaction term influenced subsequent
negative emotions. Reactivity to the mood induction was also
controlled for, as it was positively associated with neuroticism
for the negative mood induction. The main effect of neurotic-
Negative Positive
Initial moo d induction
Intensity of negative emotional experience
Figure 1.
Negative emotions experienced by high- and low-neuroticism individuals after a mildly unpleasant second task.
Extending on previous research that documented mood ef-
fects on cognition, the present study established that mood ef-
fects also occurred for actual affective experiences. Specifically,
neuroticism interacted with prior mood states to yield
mood-incongruent effects on subsequent emotional experiences.
Low-neuroticism (but not high-neuroticism) individuals showed
mood-incongruent effects—those who initially felt positive re-
acted more strongly to the mildly unpleasant second task and
experienced more negative emotions than those who were al-
ready feeling negative initially. In other words, unhappy low-
neuroticism individuals were less susceptible to the double-
whammy effect than unhappy high-neuroticism individuals,
possibly because they were already in the process of reducing
their negative emotions after the initial mood induction. What
this finding implies is that prior negative mood buffers low- but
not high-neuroticism individuals from subsequent negative
events. And instead, a prior positive mood does not yield buff-
ering effects, as would be conventionally expected.
A most likely mechanism underlying the mood-incongruent
effects shown here by low-neuroticism individuals could be
negative mood repair. Low-neuroticism individuals who ini-
tially experienced an unpleasant mood started to alleviate their
negative feelings and thus subsequently felt less negative emo-
tions after a second task, as compared to those who initially
experienced a pleasant mood. This explanation would also be
consistent with findings that high-neuroticism individuals ex-
perience stronger negative emotions in response to unpleasant
stimuli, and are less likely than low-neuroticism individuals to
repair their negative moods (Gross, Sutton, & Ketelaar, 1998;
Gross & John, 2003; Kokkonen & Pulkkinen 2001; Larsen &
Ketelaar, 1989). It also concurs with the research showing that
neuroticism differences in self-reported emotion regulation
partly account for the differences in negative emotions (Ng &
Diener, 2009). Work in the domain of mood regulation has
established that individuals low in neuroticism are more likely
to attempt down-regulating their negative emotions than indi-
viduals high in neuroticism. Attempts to eliminate or reduce
one’s negative emotions, or to turn them in a more positive direc-
tion, correlated inversely with neuroticism (Davies, Stankov, &
Roberts, 1998; Wood, Heimpel, & Michela, 2003). Therefore,
low-neuroticism individuals’ higher proclivities to repair their
negative moods after an initial unhappy experience may explain
why they are more buffered from subsequent negative events
than high-neuroticism individuals.
The concept of contrast effects is a possible alternative ac-
count that explains why people feel less negative after a second
minor unpleasant event if they first experience an unpleasant
event instead of a pleasant event. A contrast effect, which is
likely to occur when a stimulus is compared against an extreme
positive or negative event, may cause one to view a mildly
negative event as slightly positive in comparison to the extreme
negative event (Schwarz & Strack, 1999). Although this may
contribute to the observed mood-incongruent effects, this ex-
planation cannot account for the differential patterns between
low- and high-neuroticism individuals.
One limitation is that the present study examined only nega-
tive moods induced by the recollection of negative past events
and how people would subsequently react to a mildly unpleas-
ant laboratory situation. Thus, one cannot generalize to predict
whether similar buffering effects would be obtained for low-
neuroticism individuals in real-life if negative events of similar
intensity happen consecutively. It would be useful for future
research to explore this by conducting diary or longitudinal
studies. The present study also could not ascertain whether
negative mood repair was indeed responsible for the mood
effects for low-neuroticism individuals. By introducing a mood
regulatory manipulation, further studies can determine whether
the differential mood effects are due to neuroticism differences
in negative mood regulation.
In recapitulation, one can surmise that when a series of nega-
tive events happen chronologically, they do not simply sum up
and compound a person’s negative emotions. How one reacts to
subsequent mildly unpleasant events after encountering nega-
tive events is contingent on personality traits such as neuroti-
cism. Not everyone necessarily feels more negative or remains
as negative (e.g., mood-congruent effects). Instead, some indi-
viduals (e.g., low-neuroticism individuals) may display mood-
incongruent effects and show an improvement in mood. How-
ever, it is likely that their ability to improve their mood is also
contingent on the premise that they can repair their moods. If
their mood-regulatory efforts are prevented or thwarted, or
because they are instructed to engage in ineffective strategies, it
is possible these mood-incongruent effects will no longer be
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