Psychology Magazine

Seeing What You Feel - Unconscious Affect Drives Perception

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Siegle et al. provide yet another example of how it is impossible to separate emotions from cognition and perception:
Affective realism, the phenomenon whereby affect is integrated into an individual’s experience of the world, is a normal consequence of how the brain processes sensory information from the external world in the context of sensations from the body. In the present investigation, we provided compelling empirical evidence that affective realism involves changes in visual perception (i.e., affect changes how participants see neutral stimuli). In two studies, we used an interocular suppression technique, continuous flash suppression, to present affective images outside of participants’ conscious awareness. We demonstrated that seen neutral faces are perceived as more smiling when paired with unseen affectively positive stimuli. Study 2 also demonstrated that seen neutral faces are perceived as more scowling when paired with unseen affectively negative stimuli. These findings have implications for real-world situations and challenge beliefs that affect is a distinct psychological phenomenon that can be separated from cognition and perception.

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