I Put A Mood Ring To The Test For The Sake Of Science

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons.
For anyone who came of age in the '70s or '90s, mood rings were more than a colorful accessory — they were supposed to reveal the wearer's true emotions with the help of a simple, color-coded key. And they were really, really popular.
Most mood rings work in the same way: The stone itself is made up of thermotropic liquid crystals, which move and bend in response to changes in temperature. When these crystals move, the color that they express changes. According to mood ring lore, each color represents a different emotion or feeling.
I certainly wore my share of mood rings as a kid, but never without a vague sense of distrust. How could a single color accurately depict the complex emotions I was feeling at any given moment? I doubt anyone has ever had total faith in mood rings, but the very idea that their manufacturers would make such a lofty claim needled at me. (Yes, I was kind of a weird kid.) Plus, these things have been around for over 40 years. If they have had such staying power, doesn't that mean that at least some people find them illuminating?
So, in the name of Science (and in order to get more in touch with my emotions, I guess), I embarked on a week-long experiment to see if mood rings could really sense actual human emotions.
The parameters of my test were straightforward: I would wear a mood ring for as much of the day as was reasonable and record any changes in the stone's color. For my ring, the color and mood correspondences were: black for stress, reddish-magenta for nervous, orange for unsettled, green for active, turquoise for relaxed, blue for lovable, and purple for romantic. Before the experiment even began, I was skeptical, since I don't think anyone has ever described their mood as "lovable," but sure, okay.

How could a single color accurately depict the complex emotions I was feeling at any given moment?

A few things were clear within the first few days of the experiment: In a normal day of desk-bound work, the ring didn't change color too frequently. Instead, it usually hovered within the turquoise-blue (relaxed-lovable) range — most consistently during my morning coffee, when my hands were notably warm.
Certain activities did cause the color to change, though with varying accuracy. Conducting a phone interview turned the ring magenta (suggesting I was nervous), which isn't completely off-base; and it was usually orange (unsettled) while I was rushing into the office (again, not untrue). But the ring turned green (to reflect activity) when I had to put in eyedrops, though, in my mind, eyedrop application is not a very "active" endeavor. And the only way I could get it to register "stress" and turn black was by running it under freezing cold water — even at my most stressed, the ring didn't seem to notice.
Toward the end of the experiment, I was growing weary of playing the ring's game, considering I only mildly agreed with even its most "accurate" readings. And, on a superficial note, the ring wasn't really my taste, so I was sick of wearing it.
When the experiment ended, I still didn't know what it meant to feel "lovable," but I was sure of one thing: My ring definitely responded to dramatic temperature changes, but it fell very short when it came to reading more nuanced shifts in my mood. According to Tara Emrani, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone Health, this is about as well as we should expect mood rings to work, since they don't take enough physiological factors into account for their readings to ever be close to 100% accurate. What a mood ring will always read correctly, Dr. Emrani says, is the temperature of your finger — and that's about it.
Nevertheless, the basic science behind mood rings remains true. As Dr. Emrani puts it: "Cognition can affect bodily sensations, and vice versa. So yes, mood rings are undoubtedly reflecting real-life changes in your body temperature, which can occur in response to your emotions, but they're never going to tell you something about your emotions that you don't already know.
If you really want to get more in touch with your feelings, Dr. Emrani recommends practicing mindfulness (in which you stay present, take note of changes in your mood as they come, and reflect on what caused your mood to change), instead of wearing a mood ring. That said, if anyone would like a free mood ring, I have one up for grabs. Just swing by my desk.

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