Although mood has a direct impact on mental and physical health, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying mood regulation is limited. Here, I propose that there is a direct reciprocal relation between the cortical activation of associations and mood regulation, whereby positive mood promotes associative processing, and associative processing promotes positive mood. This relation might stem from an evolutionary pressure for learning and predicting. Along these lines, one can think of mood as a reward mechanism that guides individuals to use their brains in the most productive manner. The proposed framework has many implications, most notably for diagnosing and treating mood disorders such as depression; for elucidating the role of inhibition in the regulation of mood; for contextualizing adult hippocampal neurogenesis; and for a general, non-invasive improvement of well-being.
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I thank L. Barrett, L. Barsalou, D. Carney, J. Denninger, M. Fava, M. Fenske, D. Gilbert, A. Harvey, M. Mason, J. Matthews, H. Mayberg, K. Shepherd, C. Thomas and D. Wegner for stimulating discussions, constructive comments and help with the article. I was supported by NIH grant R01NS050615.