Article

Affective State Influences Perception by Affecting Decision Parameters Underlying Bias and Sensitivity

Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Emotion (Impact Factor: 3.88). 01/2012; 12(4):726-36. DOI: 10.1037/a0026765
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Studies of the effect of affect on perception often show consistent directional effects of a person's affective state on perception. Unpleasant emotions have been associated with a "locally focused" style of stimulus evaluation, and positive emotions with a "globally focused" style. Typically, however, studies of affect and perception have not been conducted under the conditions of perceptual uncertainty and behavioral risk inherent to perceptual judgments outside the laboratory. We investigated the influence of perceivers' experienced affect (valence and arousal) on the utility of social threat perception by combining signal detection theory and behavioral economics. We compared 3 perceptual decision environments that systematically differed with respect to factors that underlie uncertainty and risk: the base rate of threat, the costs of incorrect identification threat, and the perceptual similarity of threats and nonthreats. We found that no single affective state yielded the best performance on the threat perception task across the 3 environments. Unpleasant valence promoted calibration of response bias to base rate and costs, high arousal promoted calibration of perceptual sensitivity to perceptual similarity, and low arousal was associated with an optimal adjustment of bias to sensitivity. However, the strength of these associations was conditional upon the difficulty of attaining optimal bias and high sensitivity, such that the effect of the perceiver's affective state on perception differed with the cause and/or level of uncertainty and risk.

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