Defining Mood

Defining Mood is a difficult task as the word is used colloquially to refer to emotions, attitudes, atmosphere, and feelings, and conversely all these words are also used frequently to describe mood.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that Mood is:

  • a temporary state of mind or feeling,
  • the atmosphere or pervading tone of something (the general mood),
  • suggestive of a particular feeling or state of mind (usually modified by an emotion i.e. he was obviously in an angry/happy mood, or by a value she was in a good/bad mood).

We can usually pinpoint the source of an emotion; whereas moods come and go and we find it difficult to detect any source[1]. The world (including the workplace) is also full of mood triggers and emotional triggers – further reinforcing the definition that mood is a temporary state.

We can feel or sense a mood within ourselves; but we may lack this self-awareness. Also, we can detectsense and experience the moods of others; and again, we may lack the awareness and sensitivity to do this. In both cases, observation of moods is more likely when they change.

Mood and Behaviour

A key point for aviation safety is the fact that as someone’s mood changes so does their behaviour i.e. how they engage with work tasks, how they communicate with colleagues, their self-motivationvigilance and alertness, and how well they perform. A self-aware worker may notice these changes in themselves, and situationally aware colleagues may notice these changes in others.

Knowledge and awareness of personal and organisational (general) mood triggers can also allow workers to prepare and better control their behavioural responses.

The connection between mood and behaviour also raises the observation that some moods facilitate positive and effective work performance, whilst others hinder. It would seem that there are many more moods that could hinder than help.

Mood and Attitude

Attitude can be defined as a set of beliefs or a state of mind that has the potential to affect task performance; the effects can be positive, negative or neutral.

This definition of attitude does not appear to differ much from that of mood, and there is a connection. Attitudes involve a habitual tendency to evaluate things in a certain way e.g. positive / negative or good / bad. Evaluations typically relate to one’s job, colleagues, a particular task, equipment and events. Evaluations about one’s own performance capabilities are also mood triggers that reinforce these self-assessments – people are generally optimistic or pessimistic (positive or negative).

The biggest difference between mood and attitude, is that moods tend to fluctuate with high frequency, they are transitional, and reactive to events. Whereas, attitudes appear to be more permanent (low frequency) character traits and are accompanied by pre-set mood-behaviour patterns –e.g. I don’t like Fred, therefore I will not like working with him or I think recurrent training is a waste of time, therefore I won't revise. Moods can change quickly, but changing attitudes may require much training, education, determination and practice.

Just as some moods can facilitate positive and effective workplace performance, the same is true of attitudes; although these positive attitudes tend to be described as the opposite to negative, or hazardous attitudes, such as:

  • Anti-authority
  • Impulsiveness
  • Invulnerability
  • Machismo
  • Resignation
  • Complacency.

Effects of Negative Moods

These observations can only be made in a general sense, because each of us responds differently to our moods, i.e. some people can be greatly motivated by an angry mood, whilst others may isolate themselves and resign. So, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that if the following effects are observed, then a negative mood could be behind them:

  • Lack of engagement - non-responsiveness
  • Over-excitement
  • Loss of situational awareness
  • Lack of attention
  • Lack of vigilance
  • Focused (tunnel) attention
  • Lethargy
  • Impatience
  • Poor cooperation
  • Ineffective communication
  • Ineffective, or irrational decision-making
  • Aggression (physically and verbally)
  • Passive aggression (mostly verbal)
  • Increased risk tolerance
  • Loss of discipline (e.g. disregarding procedures)
  • Sabotage
  • Resignation (total disengagement)
  • etc…

Positive Moods

Maintaining and “holding” a positive attitude will facilitate a positive mood in oneself and others: it will foster self-discipline and discipline in other members of an organisation, crew or team. Positive attitudes are the antithesis of the specific negative attitudes described above in the section “Mood and Attitude”. Positive attitudes in aviation (e.g. openness and honesty), both in thought and action, also foster trust among members of the team. This trust, in turn, can increase personal confidence and the ability to accomplish a task efficiently and safely – hence, the contagiousness of mood.

A positive mood will more likely manifest as positive behaviour, such as:

Changing Mood

When it was mentioned earlier in this Article that we can detect or sense others’ moods, then apart from the behaviours, also described above, we tend to achieve this through reading body language. Our moods are openly and unconsciously transmitted through our bodies – posture, motion and facial expression. In summary, when our mood changes, then our body changes to reflect the mood (think what a depressed person looks like).

There is ample research available[2] which supports the concept that we can reverse the mood-to-body change process, i.e. by changing our body (posture, motion and facial expressions) first, this can lead to a change in our mood. Instinctively most of us understand this. Recall a time when you were fatigued and lethargic (night-shift, in the cruise, post lunch etc.) and you shook it off by standing, stretching, breathing deeply, perhaps slapping your face and engaging in some activity. A mental challenge can be just as effective as a “run around the block”. Understanding this equation can help with our mood control, as we start work, during work and when returning home from work.

Including our body language, and that of others, in our situational scanning may prevent negative moods impacting on the safety of a task.

Mood Triggers

Apart from the turning wheels of our own internal psychology directing our moods, there are other, more, prosaic reasons for changes in mood, and an awareness of these is recommended.


Hypoxia is known to manifest itself as mental confusion, including: anger, poor judgment, loss of muscle coordination, slouching and loss of consciousness. Mood disturbances are generally extreme and can include deep sorrow, uncontrollable laughing, nervous exhaustion, aggressiveness (even violence) and other antisocial actions. Sometimes a crewmember may appear to be drunk, or enter into a deep depressive state with a complete lack of will to conduct any task.

Even the application of oxygen in response to hypoxia can bring on a period of euphoria, or magnify the negative moods originally brought on by the lack of oxygen (oxygen paradox).


Fatigue leads to a degraded mood and loss of motivation[3].

Connected to fatigue is the mood trigger Jet Lag, and to some extent, for workers in regions with prolonged Sun-up & Sun-down seasons Seasonal Adjustment Disorder. Interrupting the circadian rhythm can affect the secretion of melatonin, which can act as a mood regulator; also, changing time zones will interfere with sleep patterns in the short-term and contribute to depressed mood. These two triggers will often occur in conjunction with fatigue thereby compounding the problem.


Stress, whether it is triggered from personal or work-related situations, changes the chemical balance of the whole body which manifests itself in changed: behaviour, emotions, sensations, mental imagery, thought-processes, interpersonal relationships and tendency to use alcohol, drugs or other “escapist and self-medicating” actions, such as gambling and shopping[4]. Pretty much all of these are preceded by, or followed by mood changes. If the stress is prolonged and severe, then a person’s general day-to-day attitude (outlook) will also change, thereby making negative moods more likely. Stress is an illness that needs to be treated and those suffering from stress need to be understood and not dismissed as “miserable, obnoxious, feeble, or useless”.

See your doctor if you think you are suffering from stress.


An inability to come to terms with an illness (especially a career, or life-threatening disease), including stress, can clearly lead to depression and other associated conditions. Some illnesses and medical conditions, such as thyroid disease and hormonal imbalances can also contribute to changes in mood (and personality). There is even a group of conditions whose primary identifying symptom is mood change – Mood Affective Disorder[5]. Some people are very good at disguising psychological conditions, such as bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, and can be considered as “high-functioning”; their “disguise” will be a projected “false” mood.

Keep an open dialogue with your doctor and employer regarding progress of treatment for an illness.

Medication Side-effects

Some medicines are specifically designed to “improve” a patient’s mood, from depression to a more functional level – e.g. anti-depressants like fluoxetine and olanzapine. In fact some National Aviation Authorities have recently permitted pilots to fly whilst taking anti-depressant medication (with some conditions). However, these drugs can have side-effects that paradoxically amplify the original symptoms. Some types of medicine prescribed for non-psychological conditions can also have side-effects that alter a patient’s mood. Other side-effects from medicine can affect cognitive functioning, behaviour and motion, each of which in turn can impact on mood.

Keep an open dialogue with your doctor and employer regarding the continued use of medication. Never self-medicate!

Lifestyle, Diet and Exercise

It is recognised that partaking in enjoyable activities and consuming certain natural foods can affect serotonin levels in the brain; serotonin is one of many biochemicals that modulate moods, and in particular serotonin is associated with elevated mood. Safety critical workers in aviation should seek expert advice on diet and exercise such that their mood (and energy levels) facilitate effective workplace performance. Aviation organisations can benefit from establishing well-being programmes for employees to provide diet and exercise education, as well as a point of contact to discuss and address stress, illnesses and alcohol and drug use.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

People use alcohol and other drugs (legal and illegal) to alter their moods (to feel good and have a good time). Nowadays there are many drugs and natural substances (known as legal highs) that are psychoactive i.e. they directly affect the brain and central nervous system.

Small amounts of alcohol, and some other drugs, can alleviate depressed moods temporarily and in the short term. However, excessive and/or prolonged use of alcohol and other drugs can cause serious and permanent mental, and physical, illness. Tobacco can reasonably be included within this category of mood triggers – the increase in mood that smokers experience when smoking is only a re-balance towards the norm; in fact smokers are usually not smoking and therefore their mood, due to withdrawal, is often altered negatively[6].

Even small amounts of alcohol and other drugs will affect a person’s concentration, perception, judgement, decision-making, behaviour and coordination. Withdrawal too will have a negative affect on mood and performance.

Consumption of any psychoactive substance, including alcohol, is not conducive to safe working. Organisations need to establish appropriate Alcohol & Other Drug (AOD) policies and procedures to educate, inform and manage employees.

Workplace Culture

Workplace Culture (safety and organisational) is a particular and all-pervading mood trigger, which because it seems to be permanent can contribute to moods such that they become habitual and lead to a change in attitudes. Naturally, this can be both positive and negative.

A group of people (organisation, crew or team) can also be observed as having a prevailing mood, such that newcomers quickly adopt the same mood – i.e. moods can be contagious, whether it’s happiness or depression, recklessness or diligence.

Maintaining one’s own integrity within a negative organisational culture requires:

  • reliance on one’s core values (safety is always important to you, regardless of other pressures e.g. being liked by colleagues),
  • faith with one’s core beliefs (believing that you can always make a difference to safety),
  • maintaining a professional attitude (always respecting procedures), and
  • applying yourself to do things right, being cooperative and fully-focused; in essence, becoming a role-model[7].


  • Moods are temporary states of mind and/or feelings.
  • Moods are not permanent, although moods connected to fixed attitudes can appear that way.
  • Moods are detectable – both instinctively, and, if we know what to look for, rationally.
  • Moods can lead to hazardous or helpful behaviour.
  • We can be in a certain mood (physically and mentally).
  • Things, events, people etc. can put us in a particular mood (mood triggers, of which we may not be conscious).
  • Mood triggers include stress, illness and medication.
  • We can change our own mood in the short-term by changing our posture, actions and facial expressions, and in the long-term by adopting an appropriate healthy lifestyle and diet.
  • Alcohol and other drugs predominantly have a negative affect on mood.
  • We can create, or set a mood i.e. we can improve the mood of others, directly impacting organisational, crew and team, performance, communication and cooperation.

Further Reading


  1. ^ D. Goleman. 2006. Social Intelligence: the new science of human relationships. New York. Random House Inc.
  2. ^ O’Connor. J. & McDermott. I. 1996. Principles of NLP. London. Thorsons.
  3. ^ When are you too tired to be safe: the development of a fatigue index tool. Presentation by Andrew Kilner. Eurocontrol.
  4. ^ Palmer. S. & Dryden. W. 1995. Counselling for Stress Problems. London. Sage Publications Ltd.
  5. ^ Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental Disorders (DSM). The American Psychiatric Association.
  6. ^ Carr. A. 2009. Easy Way to Stop Smoking:be a happy non-smoker for the rest of your life. Fourth Ed. London. Penguin.
  7. ^ Hudson. P. (2003). Safety Management & Safety Culture: the long hard winding road.

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