1. How emotions influence our internal clock

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Freiburg press release:

    Just how it works is not known — but human beings have an internal clock which enables us to perceive and estimate periods of time subconsciously. A research team under Dr. Roland Thomaschke of the University of Freiburg’s Department of Psychology showed in experiments that this mental time-processing system is able to adapt quickly and flexibly to predictive time patterns. The study has been published in the specialist journal Emotion.

    The psychologists examined time periods between one and three seconds. Their test subjects were given the task of sorting nouns — which appeared one after another on a computer screen — according to gender (German nouns are grammatically masculine, feminine, or neuter). During the transition to the next word, a small cross was shown. What the test subjects did not know — they were looking at concepts which are seen as positive or negative, such as love and friendship on the one hand, torture and death on the other. With most of the “positive” nouns, the cross appeared before them for half a second; with most of the negative nouns it was for two seconds. “The pattern influenced the test subjects although they were not aware of it,” says Thomaschke. “If the combination was unusual, like a long interval before a positive concept, they had considerable difficulty sorting according to gender.” But this irritation was not manifested when no emotions were involved. With other test subjects, the psychologists used concrete and abstract concepts instead of positive and negative ones — and the effect was not observed in this case.

    This result helps to better understand human perception. In conversation, for instance, it can be observed that positive, agreeing answers are given faster than negative, rejecting ones. This experience leads to participants in online conferences — in which spoken contributions are preceded by a time delay due to the technology used — being regarded by the other participants as being negative; the experience of everyday conversation is subconsciously carried over into the conference situation. The results also suggest how it may be possible to get people’s attention. For example, if a website always shows advertising after the same period of time, users will be able to predict and better ignore it subconsciously. For advertisers it would therefore make sense to fade in advertising at irregular intervals — and to get attention by creating that irritation.


  2. Study suggests stress faced by emergency call handlers damaging to long term health

    by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University and Kingston University/St George’s, University of London investigated areas that impacted on the psychological health of call handlers.

    Previous research on how stress affects healthcare workers is largely focused on frontline staff i.e. paramedics and firefighters, however little is known on the impact on call handlers who make critical decisions in assessing what type of emergency response is required.

    Examining 16 studies from across the world, researchers identified key factors which cause operatives stress and potentially impact on their psychological health. Exposure to traumatic and abusive calls was found to negatively affect call handlers, because although they are not physically exposed to emergency situations, evidence demonstrated that they experienced trauma vicariously. In one study, participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to 32 per cent of the different types of calls that they received.

    A key stressor for call handlers was a lack of control over their workload due to the unpredictability of calls and a lack of organisational recognition of the demands of managing their assignments. One study reported that ambulance call handlers felt out of control of their workload after returning from rest breaks, which led them not taking scheduled breaks, leading to exhaustion. A lack of high quality training in dealing with pressurised calls was identified by some handlers as contributing to stress levels, with police call handlers in one study showing concern about their performance in handling fluid situations such as robberies in progress or suicidal callers, in case they did not make the correct decisions.

    Co-author of the paper Mark Cropley, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “Call handlers across different emergency services consistently reported their job as highly stressful, which in turn affects their psychological health. This undoubtedly impacts on their overall wellbeing, leading to increased sickness and time away from work, putting additional strain on the service and their colleagues.

    “Although handlers are not experiencing trauma first-hand the stress that they experience when responding to such calls should not be overlooked.”

    Co-author Professor Patricia Schofield, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Call handlers are the front line of emergency care but are often overlooked when it comes to studies about stress affecting the police, fire and ambulance services. This study finds evidence that staff are at risk of burnout, due to high workload, inadequate training and a lack of control.

    “It’s important that these staff are considered and interventions made to ensure that they can cope with their workload — these people make vital decisions which affect lives.”

    Co-author Professor Tom Quinn from Kingston University & St George’s, University of London, said:

    “Most people probably don’t recognise the stressful conditions under which emergency call centre staff work. Now that we have explored and summarised the evidence to identify the challenges these important staff face, we plan to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden on them and improve their wellbeing.”


  3. Study suggests parents help shape how much pain preschoolers feel after vaccination

    by Ashley

    From the York University press release:

    While vaccinations protect children against various illnesses, the pain can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s no wonder most children and parents dread their vaccination appointments. Now new research from York University’s OUCH Cohort at the Faculty of Health found that the amount of distress and pain felt by a preschooler during a vaccination is strongly related to how their parents help them cope before and during an appointment.

    Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell in the Faculty of Health, York Research Chair in Pain and Mental Health and senior author of the paper, has been following the OUCH Cohort children for over a decade. In the study, researchers used the data from 548 children who had been followed during infant and/or preschool vaccinations. Infants were included in the study if the infant had no suspected developmental delays or impairments, had no chronic illnesses, had never been admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and was born no more than three weeks preterm.

    The research, led by graduate student Lauren Campbell, examined children who were expressing the most pain during preschool vaccinations. The goal of the study was to find out what would best predict the children who had the highest pain and did the poorest coping during the preschool vaccination by watching both the child and the parent over repeated vaccinations over childhood. Researchers evaluated various pain behaviours such as facial activity (grimacing), leg activity (crunching of legs), crying and consolability to measure the level of pain in children. They also looked at what the child and parent said that related to coping with the pain.

    The results suggested that a preschooler’s ability to cope is a powerful tool to reduce pain-related distress but they need parents to support their coping throughout a vaccination appointment to have an impact in reducing pain-related distress.

    “When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle,” says Pillai Riddell.

    The data confirmed that engaging in coping-promoting behaviours like encouraging a child to take deep breaths was important. Using distractions such as pulling out an iPhone or distracting children with plans about what they will do after the appointment also improved children’s coping.

    However, Pillai Riddell says it may be even more important to avoid negative or distress-promoting behaviours.

    “Telling kids that ‘it’s ok, it’s going to be fine’ over and over again actually makes children feel anxious. Parents only say things are ‘okay’ when things are not ok. Ensuring you don’t criticize a child, such as saying: ‘strong girls don’t cry’, ‘big boys don’t do that’ is important. Also, don’t apologize to a child by saying things like: ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is also key, says Pillai Riddell. “These are all distress-promoting behaviours and increase pain and distress.”

    The study, published in Pain, found that not only is a parent’s behaviour during vaccinations critical to a child’s pain coping responses, but that the behaviour may also impact their reactions in the future. Moreover, the research may better inform medical care and may predict suffering by children during vaccinations into adulthood.

    “People who have negative reactions with doctors when they are young, may avoid preventative care in the future. If you didn’t like a needle when you were five, that can stick with you.”


  4. Study suggests cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents with OCD works in the long run

    by Ashley

    From the Aarhus University press release:

    Some children and adolescents think that they will have an accident if they do not count all the lampposts on their way to school. Or cannot leave the house unless they have washed their hands precisely twenty-five times. They suffer from OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is an extremely stressful psychiatric disorder that affects between 0.25 and 4 per cent of all children.

    Fortunately, the treatment method — cognitive behavioural therapy — is both effective and well-documented. The hitherto largest research study of OCD treatment for children and adolescents aged 7-17 now shows that cognitive behavioural therapy also has a long-lasting effect. The Nordic research project, which involves researchers from Aarhus University and child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden, has shown that children and adolescents who benefited from the therapy were also free of patterns of compulsive behaviour and compulsive thoughts one year after the treatment ended.

    “The study makes clear that cognitive behavioural therapy reaches beyond the treatment period. This knowledge is important, both for the practitioners, but not least for the affected children and their families,” says Per Hove Thomsen, one of the researchers behind the study and professor at Aarhus University and consultant at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Risskov. He is also the final author of the results, which have just been published in the scientific journal Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

    “OCD is a very difficult disorder which demands a colossal amount of the child in question. It is almost impossible to live a normal life as a child and teenager with a normal level of development, if you need to wash your hands a hundred times a day in a particular way in order not to be killed, which is something that compulsive thinking can dictate. For the same reason, early intervention is necessary before the disorder has disabling consequences in adulthood,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

    The children from the study were treated with cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a behavioural psychological treatment. Fundamentally it involves getting help to refrain from acting on compulsive thoughts and instead incorporating new thought patterns. The method also involves the whole family, as the effect is strengthened by the mother and father supporting the methods that the child is given to overcome the OCD.

    Furthermore, according to Psychologist and PhD David R.M.A Højgaard, who is the lead author of the scientific article, once the treatment is completed a watchful eye should still be kept on the child or teenager.

    “The results of the study indicate that to maintain the effect in the longer term you need to remain aware and detect OCD symptoms so you can nip them in the bud before they develop and become worse. This is done by offering booster sessions to refresh the treatment principles and thereby prevent OCD from getting a foothold again,” says David R.M.A Højgaard.

    The collaboration with the Norwegian and Swedish child and adolescent psychiatry clinics has added knowledge that can be significant for the organisation of OCD treatment.

    “The biggest challenge facing OCD treatment is that there are not enough specially trained therapists and treatment facilities to meet needs. The study shows that if the level of training of therapists is consolidated and if supervision is provided, then it is possible to provide treatment in an isolated corner of Norway that is just as effective as the treatment provided at a university clinic,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

    The study is part of The Nordic Long Term OCD Treatment Study (NordLOTS) and comprises 269 children and adolescents with OCD from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

    The results showed that 92 per cent of the 177 children and teenagers who immediately benefited from the treatment were still healthy and free of symptoms one year after the treatment ended. Of these, 78 per cent had no clinical symptoms of OCD.


  5. New insights into why sleep is good for our memory

    November 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of York press release:

    Researchers at the University of York have shed new light on sleep’s vital role in helping us make the most of our memory.

    Sleep, they show, helps us to use our memory in the most flexible and adaptable manner possible by strengthening new and old versions of the same memory to similar extents.

    The researchers also demonstrate that when a memory is retrieved — when we remember something — it is updated with new information present at the time of remembering. The brain appears not to ‘overwrite’ the old version of the memory, but instead generates and stores multiple (new and old) versions of the same experience.

    The results of the research, carried out at York’s Sleep, Language and Memory (SLAM) Laboratory, are presented in the journal Cortex today.

    Lead researcher Dr Scott Cairney of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Previous studies have shown sleep’s importance for memory. Our research takes this a step further by demonstrating that sleep strengthens both old and new versions of an experience, helping us to use our memories adaptively.

    “In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences.”

    In the study, two groups of subjects learned the location of words on a computer screen. In a test phase, participants were presented with each of the words in the centre of the screen and had to indicate where they thought they belonged.

    One group then slept for 90 minutes while a second group remained awake before each group repeated the test. In both groups, the location recalled at the second test was closer to that recalled at the first test than to the originally-learned location, indicating that memory updating had taken place and new memory traces had been formed.

    However, when comparing the sleep and wake groups directly, the locations recalled by the sleep group were closer in distance to both the updated location (i.e. previously retrieved) and the original location, suggesting that sleep had strengthened both the new and old version of the memory.

    Corresponding author Professor Gareth Gaskell of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Our study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories.

    “For the sleep group, we found that sleep strengthened both their memory of the original location as well as the new location. In this way, we were able to demonstrate that sleep benefits all the multiple representations of the same experience in our brain.”

    The researchers point out that although this process helps us by allowing our memories to adapt to changes in the world around us, it can also hinder us by incorporating incorrect information into our memory stores. Over time, our memory will draw on both accurate and inaccurate versions of the same experience, causing distortions in how we remember previous events.

    The study builds on a research model created by Ken Paller, Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, USA, an eminent researcher in the field of memory and a co-author on this study.

    The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


  6. Study suggests blue lighting helps us to relax faster after an argument than white lighting

    by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), in collaboration with the School for Special Education San Rafael (Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God, Granada, Spain) have proven, by means of an objective evaluation using electrophysiological measurements, that blue lighting accelerates the relaxation process after acute psychosocial stress in comparison with conventional white lighting.

    Said stress is a kind of short-term stress (acute stress) that occurs during social or interpersonal relationships, for example while arguing with a friend or when someone pressures you to finish a certain task as soon as possible.

    The researchers, which belong to the BCI Lab (Brain-Computer Interface Lab) at the University of Granada, note that psychosocial stress produces some physiological responses that can be measured by means of bio-signals. That stress is very common and negatively affects people’s health and quality of life.

    For their work, whose results have been published in the PlosOne journal, the researchers made twelve volunteers to be stressed and then perform a relaxation session within the multisensory stimulation room at the School for Special Education San Rafael.

    In said room the participants lied down with no stimulus but a blue (group 1) or white (group 2) lighting. Diverse bio-signals, such as heart rate and brain activity, were measured throughout the whole session (by means of an electrocardiogram and an electroencephalogram, respectively).

    The results showed that blue lighting accelerates the relaxation process, in comparison with conventional white lighting.


  7. Study looks at how well we perceive other people’s stress levels in the workplace

    November 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    A new Tel Aviv University study finds that people often project their own experiences with stress onto their colleagues and employees, causing miscommunication and, often, missed opportunities.

    “This study is the first to show that our own psychological mindset determines how we judge other peoples’ responses to stress — specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative,” said principal investigator Prof. Sharon Toker of TAU’s Coller School of Management.

    The research was published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

    The positives and negatives of stress

    “This research informs the way managers assess their employees’ ability to take on different workloads. It may also inform our relationships with our spouses — or with our children,” Prof. Toker says. “For example, a typical ‘tiger mom’ is sure that stress is a good thing. She may simply not see how burned out her child may be.”

    Experiments conducted by Prof. Toker and researchers Prof. Daniel Heller and Nili Ben-Avi, also of TAU’s Coller School of Management, found that a person’s individual stress mindset colors the way he or she will perceive a colleague or employee’s health, work productivity and degree of burnout.

    “If a manager perceives that a certain employee doesn’t suffer from stress, that manager will be more likely to consider the employee worthy of promotion,” Prof. Toker says. “But because the manager believes that stress is a positive quality that leads to self-sufficiency, the manager will also be less likely to offer assistance if the employee needs it,” Prof. Toker says.

    Prof. Toker and her colleagues recruited 377 American employees for an online “stress-at-work” questionnaire. Participants were asked to read a description of “Ben,” a fictitious employee who works long hours, has a managerial position and needs to multitask. The employees then rated his burnout levels and completed a stress mindset questionnaire about Ben.

    The more participants saw stress as positive and enhancing, the more they perceived Ben as experiencing less burnout and consequently rated him as more worthy of being promoted,” Prof. Toker says.

    Changing minds

    The researchers also wanted to see whether they could change people’s perceptions of stress and consequently change the way they perceive other peoples’ stress. They conducted a series of further experiments among 600 employed Israelis and Americans to determine whether their stress mindset can be cultivated or changed.

    The researchers randomly assigned the employees to “enhancing” or “debilitating” stress mindset groups of 120-350 people. Using a technique called “priming” — prompting participants to think of the word “stress” in either positive or negative terms — the participants were asked to write about past stress experiences in either a “positive/enhancing” or “negative/debilitating” way. They were then asked to read a description of Ben’s workload and assess Ben’s burnout, rate of productivity and psychosomatic symptoms.

    Participants were also asked whether Ben should be promoted and whether they would be willing to help him with his workload.

    “Study participants who were primed to have a positive/enhancing stress mindset rated Ben as suffering less from stress-related symptoms and were consequently more likely to recommend Ben for promotion. They were also less likely to offer him help,” Prof. Heller says. “But those primed to feel as though stress was debilitating/negative felt that Ben was more burned out and consequently less fit to be promoted.”

    “Your stress mindset will affect your judgement of other people’s stress responses,” Ben-Avi concludes. “But we have shown that even if stress affects you positively, it can distort the way you see your colleagues, your employees, your spouses, even your own children. We should be very careful about assessing other people’s stress levels.”


  8. Study finds people can recognise images seen briefly a decade ago

    by Ashley

    From the CNRS press release:

    Recalling the names of old classmates 50 years after graduation or of favorite childhood television series illustrates the amazing abilities of human memory. Emotion and repeated exposure are both known to play a role in long-term memorization, but why do we remember things that are not emotionally charged and have only been seen or experienced a few times in the past? To answer this question, scientists from the Centre de recherche cerveau & cognition research unit (CNRS/Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier)1 decided to challenge the memory of individuals they had tested in the laboratory a decade previously. They discovered that participants recognized images seen for only a few seconds ten years earlier. These findings were published online on November 5, 2017, in Cognition.

    When conducting laboratory tests, it is difficult to account for key factors involved in memorization. Yet it is known that frequent exposure to sensory data translates into durable memories. And that something seen or experienced only once might never be forgotten when strong emotions are involved.

    The researchers in this study were able to control for these variables — i.e., emotional context and number of exposures — and evaluate another type of memorization. They asked 24 people (having no memory disorders) tested in the laboratory ten years previously to return for new tests. A decade earlier, the same individuals had been shown a sequence of simple clipart images, each for only a few seconds, without being given any particular instructions to memorize them. When they returned to the lab in 2016, participants were asked to identify these pictures presented in pairs alongside new images.

    On average, those surveyed obtained 55% correct answers, compared with 57% in the case of images already seen at least three times and up to 70% for some participants (one third of whom scored between 60% and 70%).

    Under these experimental conditions, it seems that three exposures are sufficient to memorize an image for 10 years. Although scientists have known for several years that memories can be retained implicitly — that is, without being able to consciously access them — this new study shows that they can directly influence participants’ choices and may sometimes even provoke a strong feeling of familiarity.

    The researchers are now seeking to elucidate the biological basis for this memorization. They hypothesize that such memories rely on a small group of ultraspecialized neurons rather than a wide and diffuse neuronal network.

    Note:

    1The study team also included a researcher from the Institut de neurosciences des systèmes (AMU/INSERM).


  9. Study suggests eating disorder treatments need to consider social, cultural implications of the illness

    by Ashley

    From the University of East Anglia press release:

    People in treatment for eating disorders are poorly served when it comes to addressing the cultural aspects of eating problems, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

    This emerges as part of an overall set of findings that suggest contemporary eating disorder (ED) treatment in the UK pays little attention to the cultural contexts for eating problems, such as gender. Although EDs affect people across different genders, ethnicities and ages, women and girls are disproportionately affected by eating problems.

    But this quite obvious connection between eating disorders and cultural expectations surrounding femininity is woefully neglected in much treatment, said lead researcher Dr Su Holmes, a reader in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies. The research is published in the journal Eating Disorders.

    Dr Holmes said that although there is now extensive evidence on how EDs are bound up with cultural ideas surrounding gender, the contemporary focus on evidence-based treatment, and particularly the rise of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has all but forced these issues off the agenda. If cultural elements are addressed, it is through a limited focus on ‘body image’ work, which often invokes the significance of the media in perpetuating unattainable images of the body.

    The paper said more culturally-focused perspectives on eating problems have argued that ‘disordered eating may not necessarily be motivated by the drive for pursuit of thinness or any “distortion” of body image, but rather by wider experiences’ of gender expectations and pressures.’

    Dr Holmes’ previous research with people who had received treatment for an ED showed that even when a patient specifically asks to talk about questions of gender, their request may be ignored — either because such issues are seen as a low priority, or because health professionals have little training in this sphere.

    In response to this, Dr Holmes and Ms Sarah Drake, an occupational therapist and lecturer in the School of Health and Social Care at UEA, devised and ran a new treatment intervention at an inpatient clinic that specialises in the treatment of EDs.

    The group, which was run over 10 weeks at Newmarket House clinic Norwich, was called ‘Cultural Approaches to Eating Disorders’, and included all the patients who were resident in the clinic at the time. These were all female, with a diagnosis of anorexia, and their ages ranged from 19-51.

    Each week, the programme examined what role culture might play in EDs, including:

    • Gendered constructions of appetite
    • Cultural expectations surrounding female emotion and anger
    • ‘Reading’ the starved body in relation to cultural prescriptions of femininity
    • The dynamics of ‘healthy’ eating/living and fitness cultures’ aimed at women

    The group used media, such as television adverts, Disney films, press articles, image bank photography to social media, to stimulate debate about the particular issue being explored. But the media were not consistently positioned as the ’cause’ of anorexia, as so often happens in suggestions of how society influences eating problems. The study found that people living with EDs find that the tendency to portray women with anorexia as the passive victims of media influence is often seen as patronising and simplistic by those living with the illness.

    One patient said that suggesting seeing “a skinny model in a magazine” influenced the development of EDs “completely trivialises” the many reasons people develop body- and eating distress.

    Looking at the wider contexts that shape ideas about gender in society — such as beliefs about ‘appetite’ — was seen as helpful by the participants. This focus took in food advertising aimed at women as well as wider ideas about ‘appetite’, such as the ways in which girls and women are still expected to exercise more restraint in sexual appetite than boys and men — and are sex- or slut-shamed if they don’t.

    Participants in the group said they found it useful to situate their problem within society, thus moving away from the more individualised focus of medical perspectives that may encourage self-blame — but it also raised questions about recovery.

    One patient said: “But then, as the groups went on it’s like OK, maybe this society’s norms are quite disordered. But then it’s like … if society’s norms are disordered … then … I don’t know, how am I meant to change kind of things?”

    Dr Holmes said: “The medical framework may offer the patient a greater sense of personal agency when it comes to feelings of control in recovery. Given that anorexia in particular is seen to be tightly intertwined with issues of control, this is clearly worth some thought.”

    The research shows, however, that there is room for more work and exploration in this area, and the group is now being re-run with the hope of adapting it for other services in the region.

    Dr Holmes said: “It is important to stress that the study does not work on the assumption that issues concerning gender identity are only relevant to the experience and treatment of eating disorders in girls and women. The focus on how eating- and body distress may be used to negotiate dominant ideas about gender and sexuality is similarly applicable to male patients, as well as gender minorities, even whilst the cultural constructions at stake may be different.”

    Indeed, she said, given that recent research indicates how transgender individuals may be particularly at risk from developing eating problems, this arguably adds credence to the idea that EDs may be bound up with the pressures and difficulties posed by dominant gender norms.

    Dr Holmes said: “The bottom line is that, although eating disorders are now widely recognised as being shaped by biological, psychological and social factors, the social aspect of the equation is poorly served.”

    Get more information at: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/64112/


  10. Study suggests people will desire something even more if you increase their focus on it

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    The relationship between desire and attention was long thought to only work in one direction: When a person desires something, they focus their attention on it.

    Now, new research reveals this relationship works the other way, too: increasing a person’s focus on a desirable object makes them want the object even more — a finding with important implications for marketers and clinicians seeking to influence behavior.

    The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to demonstrate a two-way relationship.

    “People will block out distraction and narrow their attention on something they want,” said Anne Kotynski, author of the study and a PhD student in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University. “Now we know this works in the opposite direction, too.”

    In marketing, advertisements with a hyper focus on a product’s desirable aspect — say zooming in on the texture of icing and frosting — might help sell a certain brand of cake.

    Findings suggest the ad could be targeted to people who have shown an interest in a similar product, such as running the cake commercial during a baking show.

    Clinicians could potentially help their patients develop a stronger focus on — and pursuit of — healthy activities that they may desire but otherwise resist, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet, Kotynski said.

    The study’s findings also add a wrinkle to knowledge of focus and emotion.

    According to a spate of previous research, positive emotions — such as happiness and joy — widen a person’s attention span, while negative emotions — such as disgust and fear — do the opposite: narrowing a person’s focus.

    “We conceptualize fear as drastically different from desire,” Kotynski said. “But our findings contribute to growing evidence that these different emotions have something key in common: They both narrow our focus in similar ways.”

    The findings also fit the notion that both of these emotions — fear (negative) and desire (positive) — are associated with evolutionarily pursuits that narrowed our ancestors’ attentions.

    For example, fear of predators motivated attention focused on an escape route, while an urge to mate motivated focus on a sexual partner.

    “If a person has a strong desire, research says this positive emotion would make them have a wide attention span,” Kotynski said. “Our research shows we developed a more beneficial behavior around desire: focusing our mental energy on the important object, much like fear would.”

    The study

    Study participants were shown images of desserts mixed in with mundane items. They were instructed to pull a joystick toward them if the image was tilted one direction and push the stick away if it was tilted the opposite direction. Researchers recorded the reaction time of each.

    Participants who responded fastest to pull the images of desserts were those whose attention had been narrowed. Responses were much slower to the mundane, and for participants whose attention was broad — suggesting narrowed attention increases desire for desserts but not for everyday objects.

    The study used dessert pictures to measure reaction time because such images have been shown to increase desire across individuals, most likely due to a motivation to seek high fat, high calorie foods that is rooted in evolution.