Have you ever looked back through rose-tinted glasses? What about blue-tinted specs? Ok so it may not be a common phrase but it should be. In this blog we explain why.
We all view the world through a lens that colours what we see and how we interpret it. This lens is formed by our personalities, past experiences and our mood. We wrote before about confirmation bias (link to blog here) which is the tendency to pay attention to information that confirms our viewpoint and ignore information that disconfirms it. Another bias that we fall foul of is paying attention to information that fits our current mood. This is called an attentional bias.
Your current mood is a powerful force that drives your attention towards things that match it. If you feel sad your attention is more likely to be drawn to sad things. This has been shown in many controlled research studies in which people are made to feel either happy or sad and then tested for their memory or attention towards happy or sad things. For example, one set of researchers asked happy or sad participants to do a computer task in which they counted balls moving around a screen. Unbeknownst to participants at the start of the study, halfway through the task the researchers turned one ball into either a happy or a sad face. When asked afterwards if they had noticed this the people who had felt sad while doing the task were only likely to notice the face if it was sad, they didn’t even notice that a face had appeared if it was a happy face . This was a laboratory task but think about what this means in a real-life context. If you are feeling blue you may be less likely to notice a happy scene occurring right in front of you and may be more likely to focus on something sad that matches your own mood. This type of bias even affects our memories. Another group of researchers found that when people look at a list of words when they’re feeling down they will be more likely to remember words that have negative connotations than positive . This type of bias can lead to a negative cycle in which the worse you feel, the more your attention is drawn towards things that will make you feel sad and the more sad this will make you feel. This type of attentional bias is particularly problematic in disorders such as depression .
So how do we swap the blue specs for rose ones? It’s not always easy and depends on circumstance but positive mood can drive our attention towards positive things. Kick start the process by doing something nice for yourself, for someone else or by consciously drawing your attention towards something positive. A boost in mood will help you to focus on other things that are rewarding helping you to keep giving yourself little positive boosts that will help you to step out of the negative cycle and take off those blue-tinted specs .
- Becker, M.W. and M. Leinenger, Attentional selection is biased toward mood-congruent stimuli. Emotion, 2011. 11(5): p. 1248.
- Koster, E.H., et al., Mood-congruent attention and memory bias in dysphoria: exploring the coherence among information-processing biases. Behaviour research and therapy, 2010. 48(3): p. 219-225.
- Gotlib, I. H., Krasnoperova, E., Yue, D. N., & Joormann, J. (2004). Attentional biases for negative interpersonal stimuli in clinical depression. Journal of abnormal psychology, 113(1), 127.
- Tamir, M. and M.D. Robinson, The happy spotlight: Positive mood and selective attention to rewarding information. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2007. 33(8): p. 1124-1136.