Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Happy with a Difference, Unhappy with an Identity: Observers' Mood Determines Processing Depth in Visual Search

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Happy with a Difference, Unhappy with an Identity: Observers' Mood Determines Processing Depth in Visual Search

Article excerpt

Abstract Visual search for feature targets was employed to investigate whether the mechanisms underlying visual selective attention are modulated by observers' mood. The effects of induced mood on overall mean reaction times and on changes and repetitions of target-defining features and dimensions across consecutive trials were measured. The results showed that reaction times were significantly slower in the negative than in the positive and neutral mood groups. Furthermore, the results demonstrated that the processing stage that is activated to select visual information in a feature search task is modulated by the observer's mood. In participants with positive or neutral moods, dimension-specific, but no feature-specific, intertrial transition effects were found, suggesting that these observers based their responses on a salience signal coding the most conspicuous display location. Conversely, intertrial effects in observers in a negative mood were feature-specific in nature, suggesting that these participants accessed the feature identity level before responding.

Keywords Selective attention . Visual search . Mood induction . Positive/negative mood . Salience . Object identity

Published online: 19 October 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

The ability to select the information conducive to current behavioral goals and intentions from the abundance of sensory stimuli provided by the environment is a key human cognitive skill. Effects of mood on visual information selection have been demonstrated in a series of studies in which mainly tasks investigating space- and object-based mechanisms of attentional selection have been employed. In the present study, employing a visual search task, the effects of mood on the processing mechanisms underlying feature-based selection were examined. The basic question was whether previously described mood-induced differences in selection processes would be mirrored on the very basal level of dimension- and feature-specific information selection. A specific technique (intertrial analysis) was applied in order to detect potential differences in the levels of processing engaged by observers in positive, negative, and neutral moods.

In a number of studies, mood-induced attentional biases were investigated by means of global-local paradigms such as Navon's (1977) letter task, in which global or local characteristics of large numerals composed of distinct small numerals had to be categorized. As an example, Gasper and Clore (2002, Exp.2) used Kimchi-Palmer figures (Kimchi & Palmer, 1982), a variant of the Navon letter task. On each trial, observers were shown geometric objects such as triangles or squares that were composed of smaller triangles or squares (e.g., four triangles making the shape of a square). Then, participants were presented with a selection of two objects, one of which corresponded to the shape of the local elements of the object shown before (e.g., a triangle), while the other object corresponded to its global shape (e.g., a square). The task was to decide which of the two objects looked similar to the object that was presented initially. The results were straightforward: Participants in a negative mood, as compared to observers in positive or neutral moods, less often matched objects on the basis of the global characteristic. Gasper and Clore's finding is one example of a general pattern that indicates that mood systematically affects visual information selection, suggesting that a person in a positive mood tends to process global aspects of visual stimuli, while a person in a negative mood tends to process local aspects of visual information (e.g., Basso, Schefft, Ris, & Dember, 1996; Derryberry & Reed, 1998; Gasper & Clore; 2002). In keeping with the global-local processing divide, it has been shown that the scope of focal attention is modulated by a person's mood: Negative mood narrows the focus of attention, whereas positive mood results in a broadened attentional focus (Christianson&Loftus, 1990; Derryberry & Reed, 1998; Derryberry & Tucker, 1994; Easterbrook, 1959; Fredrickson, 2004; Rowe, Hirsh, & Anderson, 2007; for a comprehensive review, see Förster & Dannenberg, 2010). …

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