New research reveals what we don’t see when we’re feeling blue.
Sadness and depression have a huge impact on our perception of the world around us. When we feel blue or down in the dumps, we tend to feel less curious or excited about things. It’s as if the world has been muted, shrouded with a grey film, appearing less vibrant and less colorful than it did when we were in a more positive state of mind.
Until now, such statements about the world seeming less colorful when we’re depressed or sad were considered metaphor, not fact. But new research is demonstrating that feeling blue actually does impact our ability to perceive colors accurately. Ironically, the color we struggle to perceive most when we’re feeling blue is…blue.
Research published in Psychological Science(link is external) included two studies. In the first, 127 college students watched either a sad animated film clip or a standup comedy clip. They were then shown color patches and asked to identify the colors in them. Students who had watched the sad video were significantly less accurate in identifying colors on the blue-yellow axis.
In the second study, students who watched a sad clip were significantly less accurate in their color identification of patches in the blue-yellow axis than a group who watched a neutral clip (a screensaver). The scientists concluded that sadness was responsible for the differences in color perception.
Demonstrating that mood and emotion can impact our actual perceptions validates those who struggle with depression and low mood. Depressed and sad people are often “encouraged” by friends and loved ones who tell them the “greyness” they perceive is all in their heads and not real. Well, it turns out their perceptions of muted color are real (albeit, it is all their heads—specifically, the areas of the brain related to color perception).
Hopefully, these findings will lead to more compassion and understanding for those who suffer with depression and help clarify the many ways in which not just their mood but their very perceptions are impacted by their sadness.
For science-based techniques to treat emotional wounds and see the world more colorfully, check out Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (link is external)(Plume, 2014).
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