If you've seen or experienced these scenarios, you may not be surprised about the latest finding from an international team of social and cognitive psychologists: A negative mood, it turns out, imparts a warm glow to the familiar. Happiness, on the other hand, makes novelty attractive (and can instead give the familiar a "blah" cast). But it is the first time the effect has been experimentally demonstrated in humans.
Led by University of California, San Diego psychology professor Piotr Winkielman, with Marieke de Vries, currently affiliated with the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, as first author on the paper, the study is published online in the journal Psychological Science.
The findings, Winkielman said, not only contribute to understanding basic human psychology but also have numerous applications: To parenting and other interpersonal relationships and even in many of the "persuasion professions." In business, in marketing and advertising and in political campaigns, people would be well-advised to take note of the research. When companies introduce novel products, for example, they may want to do so in settings that encourage a happy, playful mood. A surgeon's office, meanwhile, Winkielman said, which people visit rarely and in stressful circumstances, should probably stay away from edgy décor, opting instead for the comfy and familiar.
"The research helps us understand, too," said Winkielman, "why incumbent politicians seeking re-election fuel a negative, apprehensive mood and then offer up such tried-and-true symbols as the flag and apple pie."
It is a classic psychological observation that people prefer familiar stimuli, described 100 years ago by British psychologist Edward Titchener as the "warm glow of familiarity." In a century of research since, many studies have supported the notion and shown that even simple repetition will enhance liking of an object.
The current researchers wondered, however: Is familiarity always pleasant or warm? Perhaps, they reasoned, that varies with an individual's mood.
"We thought the value of familiarity would depend on the context," de Vries said. "Familiarity signals safety, which is pleasant in an unsafe or stressful context but might actually get boring when all is going fine."
They examined the idea by presenting participants with random dot patterns resembling constellations in the sky and made these familiar through exposure. The researchers put some of the participants in a good mood and others in a bad mood – by asking them to recall joyous or sad events in their lives. They then maintained the mood by playing appropriate music during the remainder of the test. Finally, they measured participants' emotional and memory responses to the dot patterns with ratings and, critically, with physiological measures (skin conductors to assess sweat and facial electrodes to detect incipient frowns and smiles).
As predicted, saddened participants showed the classic preference for the familiar, even smiling at the sight of familiar patterns.
A happy mood, however, eliminated the preference.
"When you're happy," Winkielman said, "known things, familiar things lose their appeal. Novelty, on the other hand, becomes more attractive."
Winkielman noted, too, that the physiological measures of the responses are particularly telling: "These are immediate bodily reactions – not just talk – we're seeing genuine, if mild, emotional response."
The study follows up on Winkielman's earlier, related work on "beauty in averages" and on embodied emotion.
Other coauthors are Troy Chenier and Mark Starr of UC San Diego and Rob Holland of Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands.
The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to Winkielman, the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology and Radboud University Nijmegen to de Vries and the Dutch Science Foundation to Holland.
About UC San Diego
Founded in 1960, the University of California, San Diego is ranked the best value public university in California by Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the 7th best public university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Named the "hottest" institution to study science by Newsweek, UC San Diego is one of the nation's most accomplished research universities, widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. Renowned for its collaborative, diverse and cross-disciplinary ethos that transcends traditional boundaries in science, arts and the humanities, the university attracts stellar faculty, students and staff.
Inga Kiderra | EurekAlert!
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences