We all lead busy, technology-dependent lives, where we’re constantly pressured to learn more and more in shorter periods of time.

At the same time, depression seems to also be on the rise: According to the WHO, over 300 million people worldwide have depression. [1]

So is there a common denominator between learning and depression?

A new study from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) and the University College London (UCL) explores a positive correlation between serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, and learning speed. [2]

In the study, mice were trained to choose between two ports, one of which delivered the reward of water.

The group of mice who had a light-induced serotonin boost were able to figure out which door to choose more quickly than the control group.  


In the study, it appears that serotonin influenced how mice absorbed information and used it to adapt to new situations.   

Both learning and decision-making in the serotonin-affected group were improved.

While we still don’t know exactly how serotonin patterns work, we do know that it’s positively associated with a good mood.

This makes sense if you think about it: when we’re happier, we tend to be able to concentrate more, and be more productive, and we experience the opposite when we’re low.  


The research above suggests that serotonin plays a significant role in boosting our learning speed.

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going to keep this research in mind with regard to mood changes and productivity.  

I know from experience that working “smarter” gets us further than working “harder,” and that in order to work smart, we have to ensure that our brains (and bodies) are in top shape.

One thing we can do to make sure we’re learning fast and thinking clear is by ensuring that we have adequate serotonin.

Here’s how to help your serotonin levels:

  • Eating foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan, such as nuts, salmon, and eggs
  • Mindfulness practice (eg: meditation)
  • Exercising regularly
  • Minimizing alcohol intake
  • Getting plenty of natural light
  • Taking a serotonin-boosting supplement  

If you believe you have serious depression, it’s important that you develop a treatment plan with your health care professional.  

But if you’d like a mood boost from time to time, or are just trying to be more productive at work, it's worth remembering that your brain functions better with an adequate supply of serotonin.

Do you have any experience with depression and productivity? Do you tend to get more done when you’re happier?

Share your thoughts below!

  1. Depression: Key Facts. World Health Organization, 22 March, 2018.   
  2. Computational model analysis reveals serotonin speeds learning. Science Daily, June 26, 2018.
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