Sadness Can Literally Make The World Seem Duller: Study


Feeling blue? According to a study, the connection between emotions and colors are more than metaphorical.

For a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers carried out two experiments exploring how feelings actually have the ability to change how an individual perceives color. According to Christopher Thorstenson, first author for the study, the results of their work showed that emotion and mood literally affects how people see the world around them, advancing the study of perception.

Studies have previously shown that emotion influences various visual processes, with some work even indicating that there is an association between reduced visual contrast and depressed mood. Since sensitivity to contrast is a basic visual process for perceiving color, the researchers wondered if there might be particular link between color perception and sadness.

In one experiment, the researchers worked with 127 participants, showing them an emotional video clip meant to either induce sadness or amusement. After watching the clip, the participants were then tasked with completing a visual judgment test, which involved identifying 48 desaturated patches of color as being blue, green, yellow or red.

In another experiment, 130 participants also took the visual judgment test, but this time after watching either a sad video clip or one with a neutral emotion.

The results of the two experiments were similar, with those watching sadness-inducing clips performing more poorly in identifying color patches but only those on the blue-yellow axis. Accuracy was not affected for colors on the red-green axis so the researchers suggest that sadness is particularly responsible for varying color perception specifically on the blue-yellow axis.

Thorstenson said they were surprised that the effect of sadness was very specific, impairing only colors along the blue-yellow axis. The researchers did not see the result coming at all but it may have provided them with a clue towards understanding the effect on neurotransmitter function, since earlier works have particularly linked the neurotransmitter dopamine with color perception along the blue-yellow axis.

The researchers acknowledge that the study is a new work and will need further experimentation to fully determine the generalization of the phenomenon involving color perception and emotions.

Other authors for the study include Andrew Elliot and Adam Pazda. All the researchers were from the University of Rochester.

Photo: Rana Ossama | Flickr

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