About That Annoying Noise You Can’t Stop Hearing…

Participants were induced into a negative or neutral mood by writing about a frightening or neutral experience in their past. They then listened to a series of short, neutral tones (320 and 640 ms) and rated the loudness and duration of the tones. Participants in a negative mood rated the tones as significantly louder, but not longer, than participants in a neutral mood, suggesting that the difference between the groups was perceptual rather than just a response bias. This research shows for the first time that the role of affect in perceptual processes may be more pervasive than previously considered.

That’s from the current issue of Emotion, and the paper’s authors are Erika Siegel and Jeanine Stefanucci. Meanwhile, millions of uptight, easily-irritated people are throwing their hands in the air and saying “So that’s why I couldn’t work because the guy down the hall was chewing gum.”

The experiment also hints at why small-scale mood-enhancing activities (e.g. meditation) can have large impacts. If a bad mood amplifies negative reactions to external stimuli then negative affect can grow exponentially rather than linearly. Thus, nipping it in the bud before it can grow will have a large effect on psychological well-being.

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