Positive emotions like joy and humor
help people "get the big picture," virtually eliminating
the own-race bias that makes many people think members
of other races "all look alike," according to new University
of Michigan research.
"Negative emotions create a tunnel vision," said U-M
psychology researcher Kareem Johnson. "Negative emotions
like fear or anger are useful for short-term survival
when there's an immediate danger like being chased by
a dangerous animal. Positive emotions like joy and happiness
are for long-term survival and promote big picture thinking,
make you more inclusive and notice more details, make
you think in terms of 'us' instead of 'them.'"
To simulate getting a quick glance of a stranger, scientists
flashed photos of individuals for about a half second,
finding subjects recognized members of their own race
75 percent of the time but only recognized members of
another race 65 percent of the time, Johnson said. However,
researchers found positive emotions boosted that recognition
of cross-race faces about 10 to 20 percent, eliminating
The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the
journal Psychological Science.
Johnson, who is completing his PhD work in psychology,
and Barbara Fredrickson, a U-M psychology professor
and director of the Positive Emotion and Psychophysiology
Laboratory, specialize in the power of positive emotions.
Researchers asked a group of 89 students to watch a
video either of a comic to induce joy and laughter,
a horror video to induce anxiety, or a "neutral" video
that would not effect emotions. They then looked at
28 yearbook style photos of college-aged people in random
order for 500 milliseconds.
Subjects who watched the comedy tested for having much
higher positive emotions, while those who saw the horror
video had far more "negative" emotions. In a testing
phase, more images flashed by and they were asked to
push buttons to indicate whether they'd seen the pictures
earlier. Those in a positive mood had a far greater
ability to recognize members of another race, while
their ability to recognize members of their own race
stayed the same.
The researchers conclude that positive emotions bring
with them a "broadening effect" that helps people see
a bigger, broader picture of the world around them.