[Paleopsych] more on perceptual accuracy study

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Thu Feb 17 13:23:02 UTC 2005

\This is Kareem's reply to me

Thanks for your amusing reply. I was caught a bit off guard by your 
initial e-mail since the study is not yet published. The PR folks at 
Michigan never told me when the press release came out. I am curious 
about your group, I will follow the links you provided.

I wanted to offer some words of wisdom. It is not as simple as being 
happy makes us smarter. In fact there is quite a good chunk of data that 
suggests the exact opposite. Those that are highly versed in some the of 
social psych literature may know of studies finding positive moods 
associated with the use of more heuristics (mental shortcuts) and 
stereotypes. That perspective suggests that people want to maintain 
positive feelings and become "cognitively lazy". There is even a paper 
by Norbert Schwarz entitled "Happy = mindless, sad = smart". A very 
different perspective than positive emotions broaden and build. I 
eventually would like to write a review paper that will show these 
different perspectives aren't incommensurate.

But... the happy = mindless perspective is slowly being debunked. For 
instance, when subjects think a task is relevant (either personally or 
because their decisions may have an actual outcome) positive moods no 
longer increase the use of heuristics and stereotypes. I can give you 
references if you like.

The stuff we've done in the Fredrickson lab supports positive emotions 
as evolutionarily adaptive... broadening visual attention, promoting 
inclusive social thinking, and facilitating coping mechanisms is 
conceptually quite different from the judgement and decision tasks that 
were used in the above studies. ... but that leads to a lengthy discussion

Point is.. a review of the literature would not support the idea that 
happy means smarter, but there may be specific domains when it is true. 
I think some the most exciting stuff we do is how positive emotions 
change how we interact with the social world.. for instance expanding 
the self-concept or eliminating recognition biases, we've been calling 
it social broadening, In essence a state when we more readily see our 
similarities and connection to others.

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