You Really Do See the World Differently When You're Sad

Science says feeling sad weakens your ability to distinguish color.

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If you’re feeling blue, you might have more trouble recognizing blue, too. According to new research from the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, sadness may actually change the way you perceive color.



For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers set out to see if there was any link between the color metaphors we use to describe emotions and measurable changes in perception. They had 127 undergraduates watch either a clip from a sad animated film or a stand up comedy routine. They then saw a sequence of consecutive, desaturated color swatches. Each of the 24 colors was shown twice. Researchers asked the participants to identify whether the color they saw was red, yellow, green, or blue.

Turns out, participants primed with a depressing scene had greater difficultly identifying colors on the blue-yellow axis than those who watched the bits. There was no difference between the groups in seeing colors on the red-green axis.

Researchers then did the experiment again. This time they used gray scale film clips and compared findings instead with a group that watched a neutral colored screensaver. Those who watched the sad clips still had more difficulty identifying the colors on the blue-yellow axis. For researchers this “ruled” out “the possibility that the sadness simply led to less effort, arousal, attention, or task engagement, because [it] would have produced impairment on both color axes,” study author Christopher Thorstenson explains in the study.

For right now, however, researchers feel that the application surrounding their findings remains, er, a gray area.