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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jan 2;104(1):383-8. Epub 2006 Dec 20.

Positive affect increases the breadth of attentional selection.

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Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G3.


The present study examined the thesis that positive affect may serve to broaden the scope of attentional filters, reducing their selectivity. The effect of positive mood states was measured in two different cognitive domains: semantic search (remote associates task) and visual selective attention (Eriksen flanker task). In the conceptual domain, positive affect enhanced access to remote associates, suggesting an increase in the scope of semantic access. In the visuospatial domain, positive affect impaired visual selective attention by increasing processing of spatially adjacent flanking distractors, suggesting an increase in the scope of visuospatial attention. During positive states, individual differences in enhanced semantic access were correlated with the degree of impaired visual selective attention. These findings demonstrate that positive states, by loosening the reins on inhibitory control, result in a fundamental change in the breadth of attentional allocation to both external visual and internal conceptual space.

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