Frequent Exposure to Negative Events may Prevent Future Unhappiness

November 26, 2013 12:56 PM

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A recent study shows that while it may not take a lot to put some of us in a bad mood, repeated exposure to negative emotions helps to neutralize the effect on mood and thinking.

"A bad mood is known to slow cognition," Dr. Ben-Haim of Tel Aviv Unviersity's School of Psychological Sciences said, via a press release. "We show that counterintuively, you can avoid getting into a bad mood in the first place by dwelling on a negative event. If you look at the newspaper before you go to work and see a headline about a bombing or tragedy of some kind, it's better to read the article all the way through and repeatedly expose yourself to the negative emotions."

Background information from the study notes that this is the most-used psychological test in evaluating emotional states. Participants are shown a number of words and then asked to name colors in which they are printed. In general, researchers found that it took people longer to identify colors of negative words such as "terrorism" than neutral ones, like "table." For those with emotional disorders, including depression or anxiety, it's particularly pronounced.

There are two general explanations offered-one is that negative words are more distracting, and the other is that they may be more threatening as well. However, both theories suggest that fewer mental resources are available to identify the ink in colors.

Yet neither explanation appears to predict sustained effects. For instance, following the initial distraction or threat, participants should be expected to return to the initial references without a delay. However, it may not be so simple.

Findings showed that in most cases, people are shown four or five negative words in the test 10 to 12 times.

However, researchers found that after slowly being shown the same negative word twice, subjects were able to identify the ink color without delay. However, when shown the negative words just once, they subsequently name the ink colors of neutral words more slowly.

More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics.


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