Date of Thesis

2011

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

John Ptacek

Abstract

According to the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, positive emotions broaden while negative emotions narrow thought-action repertoires. These processes reflect changes in attentional scope, which is the focus of this research. The present study tested the hypothesis that participants in negative mood would be better able to focus on a target figure and separate it from its context in a perceptual task, and would also be better able to focus on the task amid a distracting environment than participants in a positive mood. An undergraduate sample of 77 participants watched video clips selected to induce either fear or amusement, and completed an Embedded Figures Test either in a quiet setting or in a noisy setting. A higher-order ANOVA revealed that Mood had a marginally significant effect on task performance, F(1, 73) = 3.94, p = .051, and that Distraction, F(1, 72) = 4.61, p = .035 and the Mood x Distraction interaction, F(1, 73) = 9.12, p = .003 did significantly affect task performance. However, contrary to the hypothesis, the effect of the distraction manipulation was greater for participants in a negative mood than it was for participants in a positive mood. The author suggests future directions to clarify the relationship between emotions, attentional scope, and susceptibility to environmental distraction.

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