05:11am Saturday 14 December 2019

Facing the music: what we feel is how we see

Feeling happy or sad not only affects the way we see the world but also the speed with which we process visual stimuli, says Setareh Mokhtari, a doctoral candidate from the School of Psychology at Albany.

Ms Mokhtari is particularly interested in finding out how mood impacts the way we interpret other people’s facial expressions – knowledge that could help counter misunderstandings.

“I am interested to know how our mood can affect the way we perceive our visual environment and if being happy or sad makes a difference when we face the visual world,” she says.  

She uses particular pieces of music to induce a mood before testing the responses of participants to a series of visual stimuli representing facial features and moods.

In her first study, she tested 57 participants’ responses to various schematic depictions of facial expressions after they had listened to happy or sad music. She found those who listened to sad music were slower in piecing together visual information than those who has listened to more cheerful tunes.

Results were presented at the 37th Australasian Experimental Psychology conference in Melbourne and the 27th BPS Cognitive Psychology Section Annual Conference in Cardiff recently.

In the next phase of her work she is seeking more participants to take part in a one-hour psychology laboratory study where they will listen to mood music and carry out computer-based tasks involving diagrammatic figures. Participants will hear Mozart’s uplifting “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik”, and the melancholy “Adagio for Strings” by Barber before assessing and counting symbols representing facial expressions. The pieces were selected because they are considered inherently, universally “happy” and “sad” in terms of the responses they trigger in listeners.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study, at the Albany campus, can contact the researcher by emailing cognition.study@yahoo.com

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