Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Better Mood Broadens Your Field Of Vision

ResearchBlogging.orgYou often hear that happy people see the world differently. They look through 'rose colored glasses' or 'on the bright side.' There are a lot of phrases that connect mood and sight. Those less optimistic, as well, claim to 'see things as they are.' It's no surprise, then, that new research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, has found that mood really does change how we see the world.

Though the pessimists "realists" might claim to be the ones who are most in touch with actuality, its the optimists that actually see more of the world around them. That's because, as researchers from University of Toronto have found, those who are in a better mood have a widened field of vision and see background and peripheral objects that their down counterparts ignore.

To see how mood affected vision, the researchers had people self-report their moods before and after looking at images while undergoing a fMRI brain scan. The Images had a central face with houses behind it. To get them to focus on the face instead of the houses, they were asked to determine which gender the face was. Meanwhile, the brain scan monitored what parts of their brains were being activated by the task.

Both happy and grim people saw and processed the image of the face in the center, which showed on the fMRI as activation in the fusiform face area (FFA, in green). But when it came to the seeing the whole picture, the participant's mood had a strong effect. The researchers found that those who said they were in good moods had more brain activity, particularly in the parahippocampal place area (PPA, in blue), a portion of the brain used to process places. In other words, they noticed the houses in the periphery, too, while the gloomy participants didn't.

"Under positive moods, people may process a greater number of objects in their environment," said Taylor Schmitz, lead author of the study, in a press release. "Good moods enhance the literal size of the window through which we see the world." In the end, it seems, it's the optimists who get to see the big picture and are more in tune with the world around them.

While the scans look convincing, as with any study, more research is needed to understand exactly why or how mood impacts our brain activity and vision. It's possible that being in a better mood, while widening our field of view, also leads to us getting easily distracted. Bad moods, perhaps mediated through stress hormones, allow us to focus better.

But, for now, if someone tries to bring dampen your mood by saying you're unrealistic, you can tell them to stop being such a pessimist. And if they say that they're not "pessimistic," they're just "seeing things how they are" - correct them.

Schmitz, T., De Rosa, E., & Anderson, A. (2009). Opposing Influences of Affective State Valence on Visual Cortical Encoding Journal of Neuroscience, 29 (22), 7199-7207 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5387-08.2009


Anonymous said...

I've had that said to me. Now I know the comeback--I'm just seeing the big picture.

The Mother said...

I see this as having wide ranging implications for depression research. We have known for a long time that simply correcting known biochemical abnormalities isn't enough--depression isn't all biochemical. It is largely social.

What could impact social interactions more than how one views the world?

Clearly a cart-chasing-the-horse problem, but it will be interesting to see how this all unravels.

Stephanie B said...

Ah, again, I have to think of the fictional implecations of this. Humoring, say, a fighter pilot takes on a whole new meaning.

Northwest Minuteman said...

Interesting blog!! Another one you might enjoy:


Penguin collector: I keep the wounded... said...

Loved this ... great to debate.

Even if the correlation is accurate, then those who lack the capability to focus in an optimistic fashion -- by nature would be pessimistic.

But who is the "realist?" Who is to say that more broad input leads to a more accurate reality assessment?

Maybe with all that data they inevitably find something to be positive about. Or maybe, to be optimistic, you need to be a bit out of touch with reality. But happier.

Focus limited easily could lead to more accuracy in detail,"the realist."

So as a pragmatic pessimist, who fits your data, let me point out again that the optimist sees the glass 1/2 full, the pragmatic pessimist sees the glass 1/2 empty, having either enjoyed drinking the 1st 1/2, or noticed who did.