Sadness impairs color perception

ArgentieriPsicologia, RicercaLeave a Comment

“Mood and emotion can affect how we see the world around us”, says psychology researcher Christofer Thorstenson.
This apparently simple statement is the result of a very interesting research in University of Rochester.

We all use colors to talk about feelings: wouldn’t you use yellow or orange to express happiness and excitement on a canvas, for example? Or blue and green to paint peace of mind? Even though these concepts seem unrelated, these researchers wanted to investigate further.

That we perceive reality through our own filter is a matter of fact: two people see the same event in two different ways and truth is always a matter of points of view. Past researches have shown that our emotions have an influence on our visual processes: for example, depressed mood can reduce our sensitivity to visual contrast.

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After watching a video clip intended to induce sadness or amusement, 127 participants were then asked to indicate the color of some desaturated color patches (amond red, yellow, green, or blue).
Participants who watched the sadness video were less accurate, in particular in identifying colors on the blue-yellow axis. No difference was observed about the red-green axis.

Previous studies have found a specific link between perception on the blue-yellow axis and the neurotransmitter dopamine, important for reward, pleasure, attention, and motivation. Impairments regarding this particular axis have been noticed also in individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), while the perception of blue and yellow is enhanced in presence of various diseases, toxins and drugs that alter dopaminergic neurotransmission.

So, when we feel sad, we have a shortage of dopamine in our brain; the fact that we are less sensitive to yellows and blues is probably an adaptive function of our brain to see the world more red and grees. Why this preference? What do red and green do to our mood that can be useful?

These results need further research and I am very curious to know more.