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!
Amputees can learn to control a robotic arm with their minds
28.11.2017 | University of Chicago Medical Center
The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences
11.12.2017 | Information Technology