An Essay by Arthur Stone PhD on Blue Mondays and Cognitive Heuristics Published in the Sunday New York Times

Distinguished Professor Arthur Stone, PhD used an essay in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times to teach a lesson about psychological biases that may cause people to misjudge their own experiences, sometimes with undesirable consequences. The invited essay, titled Mondays Aren’t as Blue as We Think, was published in the Opinions pages on October 14, 2012.

In the essay, Dr. Stone described the results of his studies showing that while people think Monday is the worst day of the week, they do not actually experience it that way. This conclusion is based on a year-long survey conducted by the Gallup Organization, which called 1,000 people in the United States each day and asked them to describe their moods “yesterday.” When Dr. Stone and his colleagues analyzed the results, they found that the moods experienced by people on Monday were no different from their moods on Tuesday through Thursday and only a trifle worse than those on Friday.

“The blue Monday mystery highlights a phenomenon familiar to behavioral scientists,” Dr. Stone wrote in the New York Times essay, ”that beliefs or judgments about experience can be at odds with actual experience. Indeed, the disconnection between beliefs and experience is common.” Beliefs about blue Mondays, Dr. Stone said, may be caused by “the so-called contrast effect.” Because the shift in mood from Sunday to Monday constitutes the largest shift that occurs during the week, Monday may appear to be worse due to the contrast with the day before.

“The real value of this work,” Dr. Stone said, “comes from understanding the psychological processes that create our memories — and the impact this has on our decisions.” Biases in recalling the experience of a colonoscopy, for example, may discourage a person from seeking one in the future; similarly, faulty recollections of the experience of pain may lead to distortions in the results of pain research.

Dr. Stone is Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science and Director of the Applied Behavioral Medicine Research Institute at Stony Brook University. He is a leading expert in the field of Behavioral Medicine, with a special interest in patient self-reporting of medical and psychological outcomes.