Negative gossip sharpens attention

July, 2011

Faces of people about whom something negative was known were perceived more quickly than faces of people about whom nothing, or something positive or neutral, was known.

Here’s a perception study with an intriguing twist. In my recent round-up of perception news I spoke of how images with people in them were more memorable, and of how some images ‘jump out’ at you. This study showed different images to each participant’s left and right eye at the same time, creating a contest between them. The amount of time it takes the participant to report seeing each image indicates the relative priority granted by the brain.

So, 66 college students were shown faces of people, and told something ‘gossipy’ about each one. The gossip could be negative, positive or neutral — for example, the person “threw a chair at a classmate”; “helped an elderly woman with her groceries”; “passed a man on the street.” These faces were then shown to one eye while the other eye saw a picture of a house.

The students had to press one button when they could see a face and another when they saw a house. As a control, some faces were used that the students had never seen. The students took the same length of time to register seeing the unknown faces and those about which they had been told neutral or positive information, but pictures of people about whom they had heard negative information registered around half a second quicker, and were looked at for longer.

A second experiment confirmed the findings and showed that subjects saw the faces linked to negative gossip for longer periods than faces about whom they had heard about upsetting personal experiences.

Reference: 

[2283] Anderson E, Siegel EH, Bliss-Moreau E, Barrett LF. The Visual Impact of Gossip. Science [Internet]. 2011 ;332(6036):1446 - 1448. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6036/1446.abstract

Related News

A Canadian study involving French-speaking university students has found that repeating aloud, especially to another person, improves memory for words.

We know that the

Four studies involving a total of more than 300 younger adults (20-24) have looked at information processing on different forms of media.

A sleep study involving 28 participants had them follow a controlled sleep/wake schedule for three weeks before staying in a sleep laboratory for 4.5 days, during which time they experienced a cycle of sleep deprivation and recovery in the absence of seasonal cues such as natural light, time inf

A study involving 218 participants aged 18-88 has looked at the effects of age on the brain activity of participants viewing an edited version of a 1961 Hitchcock TV episode (given that participants viewed the movie while in a MRI machine, the 25 minute episode was condensed to 8 minutes).

I've written at length about implementation plans in my book “Planning to Remember: How to Remember What You're Doing and What You Plan to Do”.

In 2013 I reported briefly on a pilot study showing that “super-agers” — those over 80 years old who have the brains and cognitive powers more typical of people decades younger — had an unusually large

A recent study reveals that when we focus on searching for something, regions across the brain are pulled into the search. The study sheds light on how attention works.

Why do we find it so hard to stay on task for long? A recent study uses a new technique to show how the task control network and the default mode network interact (and fight each other for control).

As many of you will know, I like nature-improves-mind stories.

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health news