Mood Ring

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Brief History

The mood ring was created in the 1970s by Josh Reynolds and Maris Ambats and was used to communicate the current emotional state of the wearer based on the temperature of their skin. The mood ring is now worn as something of a toy, but in the seventies was taken as a serious piece of jewelry. In 1975, when the rings were becoming popular, a silver mood ring was approximately sold for $45 and a gold mood ring for up to $250. (Knoblauch)

How They Work

Mood rings depend on liquid crystals, a " state of matter that is intermediate between the solid crystalline and the ordinary liquid phases" (Ericksen 1). Thermotropic--meaning changed by temperature, basically--liquid crystals are the primary technology involved in 'thermochromic' and 'thermochromatic' media, and the basis for "mood jewelry" (Ericksen 131).

The basic premise of thermotropic liquid crystals is that the crystals change shape and color according to a change in temperature. "Because of their unique color properties, cholesteric liquid crystals can be employed to indicate temperature field patterns and for color picture screens" (Ericksen 85). An object comes into contact with the liquid crystal, and the crystals make the temperature diagram of the object visible (Ericksen 88).

The technology has practical functions in medicine. It can be used to measure temperature fluctuations on specific body parts in order to locate blood clots, find cancer cells, localize placenta, and test pharmalogical drugs (Ericksen 84). This fits in to how the mood ring can vaguely determine mood: "The basic idea is that areas of the body in which circulation is poor will have lower temperatures than areas with good circulation" (Ericksen 84). When a person is excited or stimulated in some way, a common reaction is blushing, which is when capillaries move closer to the surface of the skin and heat it up. In this way, the mood ring is accurate in that it senses a rise in heat which is related to happiness and arousal.

The process has limitations, however. It is delicate; like most temperature-measuring devices, liquid crystals are most accurate when the context of the measurement is not changing. "[L]iquid crystals can be used to measure the absolute temperature of a process provided proper calibration can be performed. [...] Perhaps the most obvious is to keep the system temperature constant" (Ericksen 90). One of the problems with mood ring technology is that the color displayed on the ring is more affected by external temperature than body temperature. Furthermore, "to make the color change clearly visible, the surface to which the liquid crystal film is applied must be black or first dyed black" (Ericksen 89). This is why mood rings are black when not in use.


Although the actual mood ring was not patented, many related objects were. Some were precursors to the mood ring and others were successors.

Heat Sensitive Novelty Device

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A ring and bracelet as shown in the "Heat Sensitive" patent.

The Heat Sensitive Novelty Device was patented by Bill James in 1974. The abstract of the patent states that it is “a novelty device which utilizes the iridescing qualities of liquid crystalline material to effect variations in colorations of the device upon application of different temperatures.” The multiple devices used are demonstrated as rings, bracelets, tie pins, earrings and necklaces. The devices as ways of showing the wearer’s mood were not touched upon. They were merely to be used as amusing accessories that changed colors when body temperature fluctuated. (James)

Skin Jewelry

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Side view of Skin Jewelry device.

Rita Frenger invented a type of jewelry that could be attached to the skin by an adhesive underside. She claims that this color changing piece was more advanced than the mood ring in that it could be attached to the skin anywhere and in its lower price. The device would contain a precious or artificial stone, a back plate, a layer of adhesive, “a sheet of flexible and resilient material,” and a second layer of adhesive for the skin all within a retaining object. All of the components of the jewel would be capable of transferring heat to the stone which is made of “heat sensitive, color-changing material.” Depending on the temperature of the wearer ranging from 80oF to 90oF, the jewel would change colors. Frenger is careful not to legitimately call her invention out on its ability to display its wearer’s mood. “It is alleged that the colors reflect the mood of the person wearing the jewelry,” she states in the patent’s descriptions. She does however, provide a list of what the changing colors are supposed to mean:

Black: Frigid
Grey: Irritable
Yellow: Melancholy
Green: Cuddly
Blue Green: Amorous
Blue: Sensuous
Dark Blue: Passionate
When the temperature of the wearer is 80o the stone will be black and as temperature slowly increases, it will makes its way toward dark blue. (Frenger)

Mood Collar for Pets

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Illustration of collar from patent.

In 2004, a collar for determining a pet’s mood was patented by Michele Levan. The collar contains one or more mood stones composed of liquid crystals and as with the heat sensitive novelty devices and skin jewelry, uses body temperature to express the animal’s mood. Levan articulates the need for her pet mood collar because of the increase in Animal Separation Disorder and emotional problems with pets today. The animal’s owner would therefore be able to determine when their pet was in a tense state, for whatever reason. “The ‘mood stones’ are exposed to the body of the pet on the interior side of the collar and attached to the collar by metal component of other suitable means. The collar is made of any suitable material currently being marketed and secured by a buckle type fastener.” The collar was made in various sizes to be suitable for both cats and dogs. (Levan)

Symbol of Control for a Shifting Culture

The mood ring allows its wearers to see their own emotional state, and thus allows them an attempt to control or moderate themselves. This possible interaction establishes the mood ring as a technology of increased self-awareness. This promise of the mood ring reveals the needs of the culture that it is consumed by. Thus it can be deduced that the culture itself is in a state of chaos and uncertainty. This chaos and need for introspection can best be understood in the context of history. Although invented in the 1960’s, the mood ring did not reach its peak of popularity until the mid 1970’s, a time during which America was experiencing a cultural shift. This cultural shift was the end of hippie culture, and the beginning of environmentalism and the economic recession due to the oil crisis.

A Medium of Therapy

The ideal use of the mood ring displayed and expanded aspects of group therapy and self-help. The mood ring allows for its wearers to communicate their emotional state to other individuals they come into contact with; giving strangers insight into their mental state. This aspect of the mood ring reflects the growth in popularity of group psychotherapy during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It also reflects the beginning of a more casual and everyday relationship with therapy. The 1960’s witnessed a rapid expansion of a variety of alternative healthcare social movements, the most well known of which was self-help: member-designed psychotherapeutic support groups. The real-time emotional monitoring abilities promised by the mood ring reflect this cultural interest of the era. (Archibald)

Stress Indicators

Mood rings were accompanied by keys that indicated what colors corresponded to what emotional states. There are some slight variations on these keys depending on the manufacturer of the ring, yet they generally coincide. Below are some examples.


The range of emotional states, which the keys indicate, reflects an emphasis on relaxation and stress. Terms such as “tense”, “overworked”, “strained”, “anxious” and “in a stress situation” appear for the black and brown colors, while “relaxed”, “easy spirit”, “non-stressful”, “tranquility”, “free”, “in-touch” and “aware” appear for the blue and green colors. According to a search on medical subject headings, stress (psychological) was introduced in 1973. This means that stress became a subject of discussion and interest at the same time as the peak in popularity of the mood ring. A precursor to the mood ring as an emotional stress indicator was the Psycho Galvanometer, which was patented in 1941. “The method consists in initiating a controlled flow of direct current through the body under test and maintaining the current constant while measuring variations in potential due to changes in body resistance resulting from emotional or physical stresses.” (psycho galvanometer patent) The StressEraser is a modern day device with comparable stress monitoring abilities. “A handheld, portable biofeedback device for reducing stress in a human subject.” (StressEraser patent) This device works by monitoring your breathing through RSA waves.

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Mood Rings in Literature

Judy Moody Predicts the Future

A 2003 book for children ages 6-10 by Megan McDonald presents a young girl who finds a mood ring as the prize in a cereal box. A series of events in which the ring’s color accurately expresses the feelings of the wearer, leads Judy to believe that she has the ability to foretell future happenings. When she asks her teacher, for example, to put on the ring, it turns red for “romantic.” This propels Judy into a search for the woman Mr. Todd is in love with. The mood ring in the end however, proves to be obsolete as Judy comes to the conclusion that it was not necessary to predict the future. Her teacher’s outward mood and liveliness were entirely indicative of his current state. She then stopped using the mood ring and decided to “take the future into her own hands.” (McDonald)

Rick Kogan’s Article: In Search of Historic Mood Rings

In a short column in the Chicago Tribune in 1991, Rick Kogan wrote about the mood ring and the 70s. He creates a story of a journey around a small town looking for a mood ring with a young girl named Robin who wishes to purchase a mood ring solely because all of her friends have them. The child has no idea how the rings work or what the changing colors mean until she buys both a ring and an amulet to obtain a guide. As the narrator, Robin and an unidentified third party sit down to talk after the day of shopping, the 1970s fashion piece is explained and related to Muhammad Ali wearing one around the boxing ring. It shows, along with Judy Moody’s mother mentioning her having a mood ring when she was younger, that the mood ring is an emblem of the 70s. Much like Muhammad Ali in the article, a reminiscent talk about the seventies from anyone who lived during the time, will automatically include a reference to the mood ring. It provides an aspect of nostalgia. Perhaps this is why they are re-created today as toys, so adults can purchase them for their children and explain all about how they grew up as Kogan does. (Kogan)


Medical Mood Ring

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Medical Mood Ring

In April 2004, an article in Technology Review gave a preview to a “medical” mood ring to come out possibly around 2009. The ring monitors the temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen levels of patients with the aid of “two light emitting diodes.” Beams of infrared light are given off by the diodes and transmitted to the other side of the ring through the user’s finger. On the opposite side of the ring, a detector measures the “intensity” of this light by the volume of the blood and oxygen levels. The ring is intended to be used in emergency rooms and at home. (Medical Mood Ring)

Mood Lamp and Phone

In Psychology Today, Dawn Stanton mocks the accuracy of mood rings and some of its successors, like the Japanese made “Shoji Mood Lamp” and “Mobile Mood Phone.” The mood lamp measures the room’s mood by “analyzing environmental data.” Temperature, humidity, and the movement of the body heat and people in the room are evaluated through a microphone and several sensors. The lamp then changes colors according to the information. An LED light on the back of the mobile mood phone adjusts colors based on the speaker’s tone of voice. “In my dreams,” Stanton says, “A monitor that suggests how to improve a room’s mood… a phone that tells me the caller’s mood before I answer.” (Stanton)

Sun Jewelry now sells “Melanoma Bracelets.” When exposed to harmful UV rays, the bracelets color turns from white to purple. The bracelet’s goal is “to raise awareness about early melanoma detection & prevention.” (Melanoma)

Toilet Seat

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Thermochromatic technology can be used for toilet seats. Plusminus, the originator of the design, explains, “Being able to identify a public toilet seat that has just been sat upon (and is thus still warm) is of particular concern to a significant number of the population. Without warning, one can easily sit upon a seat and be instantly repulsed by the trace evidence of a previous user. Conversely, if one is looking for intimate contact with an anonymous stranger without the associated awkwardness of verbal discourse, one could seek out the warm toilet seat. The decision to sit or not to sit is facilitated by the colour change of the seat: orange=cool, yellow=hot. The object retains the heat memory of a previous user and displays it as a visual marker for the next user to assess” (Ryan).

Fantasy Uses

This spoof of mood rings takes aim at emotion-altering pharmaceuticals. It reverses the thermochromatic framework of the original Mood Ring; in this instance, the chosen hue dictates the user's mood, rather than the mood dictating the color. The concept of this 'ad' plays off of color psychology theory (seeing red increases appetite, etc.).

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Archibald, Mathew. The Evolution of Self-Help. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Ericksen, J.L. and D. Kinderlehrer, eds. Theory and Applications of Liquid Crystals. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987.

Fergason, James. "The Chameleon Chemical" Life Magazine, 1968.

Frenger, Rita K. Skin Jewelry.

James, Bill G. Heat Sensitive Novelty Device.

Knoblauch, Mary. October 8, 1975. “Mood Ring monitors your state of mind” Chicago Tribune

Kogan, Rick. January 13, 1991. “In search of historic mood rings” Chicago Tribune

Levan, Michele. Mood Collar for Pets.

McDonald, Megan. 2003. Judy Moody Predicts the Future. Cambridge: Candlewick.

“Medical Mood Ring” Technology Review; Apr2004, Vol. 107 Issue 3, p18-18, 1p, 1c

“Melanoma Bracelet”

Moorhead, Laura. "Found: Artifacts from the Future." Wired Jan 2006: 160.

Raesler, John L. Psychogalvanometer.

“Ring-a-mod” Newsweek, Oct. 27, 1975, US Edition, Business pg 82

Ryan, John. "Thermochromic Toilet Seat." The Canadian Design Resource.

Stanton, Dawn. Psychology Today; Mar/Apr2007, Vol. 40 Issue 2, p19-19, 2/3p

Wood et al. Methods and Devices for Relieving Stress.