Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy People See Better than Unhappy People

"Good and bad moods literally change the way our visual cortex operates and how we see" (Adam Anderson).

A University of Toronto study provides the first direct evidence that our mood literally changes the way our visual system filters our perceptual experience suggesting that seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses is more biological reality than metaphor.

The Study

“Specifically our study shows that when in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision," says Dr. Anderson. The study appears tomorrow in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The U of T team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine how our visual cortex processes sensory information when in good, bad, and neutral moods.

The researchers first showed subjects a series images designed to generate a good, bad or neutral mood. Subjects were then shown a composite image, featuring a face in the centre, surrounded by “place” images, such as a house. To focus their attention on the central image, subjects were asked to identify the gender of the person’s face.

The Results

When in a bad mood, the subjects did not process the images of places in the surrounding background. However, when viewing the same images in a good mood, they actually took in more information — they saw the central image of the face as well as the surrounding pictures of houses.

The discovery came from looking at specific parts of the brain — the parahippocampal “place area” — that are known to process places and how this area relates to primary visual cortical responses, the first part of the cortex related to vision.

Why Positive and Negative Emotions are BOTH Useful

"Good moods enhance the literal size of the window through which we see the world. The upside of this is that we can see things from a more global, or integrative perspective.

The downside is that this can lead to distraction on critical tasks that require narrow focus, such as operating dangerous machinery or airport screening of passenger baggage.

Bad moods, on the other hand, may keep us more narrowly focused, preventing us from integrating information outside of our direct attentional focus" (Anderson).

Source: People Who Wear Rose-colored Glasses See More, Study Shows


Might this enrich, in part, our understanding of a number of interesting behavioral phenomenon?


-When we are happy we notice more things that previously did not penetrate our attention, stimulation is increased.

-Unhappy people tend to have more accidents and physical injuries.

-The attractiveness of a person can vary widely, despite various objective factors of beauty such as symmetry, depending on their moods: sanguinity noticeably adding to attractiveness and unhappiness detracting from it.

-Happy people do better and finish quicker on an array of physical and mental tests than discontented people.


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