Feeling sad can change the perception of colour, a new study finds.
People who were feeling sad found it more difficult to identify colours between blue and yellow on the spectrum, researchers found.
Dr Christopher Thorstenson, the study’s first author, said:
“Our results show that mood and emotion can affect how we see the world around us.
Our work advances the study of perception by showing that sadness specifically impairs basic visual processes that are involved in perceiving color.”
The study adds to the evidence that depression changes the way people perceive the world in all sorts of ways.
For example, people in a depressed mood are worse at detecting visual contrast.
The scientists were inspired by common phrases like ‘feeling blue’, which suggest a connection between colour and mood.
Dr Thorstenson said:
“We were already deeply familiar with how often people use color terms to describe common phenomena, like mood, even when these concepts seem unrelated.
We thought that maybe a reason these metaphors emerge was because there really was a connection between mood and perceiving colors in a different way.”
For the research people were put into different moods then asked to judge the colours.
Dr Thorstenson explained the results:
“We were surprised by how specific the effect was, that color was only impaired along the blue-yellow axis.
We did not predict this specific finding, although it might give us a clue to the reason for the effect in neurotransmitter functioning.”
The research was published in the journal Psychological Science (Thorstenson et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Sad eyes image from Shutterstock