The Effect of Mood on Perceiving Spatial Layout
Cedar Riener, Jeanine Stefanucci & Dennis R. Proffitt
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Supported by CMU/DARPA grant 539689-52273 (Augmented Cognition Program) and ONR Grant N000140110060.
Previous research by Proffitt et al. (1999, 2003) showed that the
perception of spatial layout (geographical slant, egocentric distance) is
influenced by altering the observer’s bodily state. For example, hills appear
steeper and distances appear farther to participants who are fatigued, of old
age, or wearing a heavy backpack. Research investigating possible links
between emotion and cognition has suggested that emotional state can
influence seemingly unrelated aspects of cognition (Gasper and Clore, 2002).
The current study sought to combine these two research programs by
asking whether emotion (possibly an aspect of bodily state) can influence the
perception of spatial layout. Mood was induced by having participants listen
to happy music (major key, upbeat, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) or sad
music (minor key, Mahler’s Adagietto). While listening to the music,
participants made three judgments of the slant of the hill: verbal estimate,
visual matching, and a visually guided action measure (a haptic palmboard).
Sad participants verbally judged the hill as being steeper than those in the
happy condition, and the visual matching measure showed a non-significant
trend in the same direction. As was found in previous work, the visually
guided action measure was unaffected across conditions. Results support the
hypothesis that the bodily state associated with a sad mood resembles that of a
fatigued or encumbered participant.
Verbal Estimate (degrees)
Visual Matching Estimate (degrees)
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The ratings of mood words did not differ across the two groups
The perceptual matching task exhibited a non-
significant trend in the expected direction (happy
mood = more global judgment strategy)
? Mood affects cognitive judgment and
reasoning tasks. (Gasper & Clore, in
press; Clore, 1992)
? Previous research from the Proffitt
Lab has shown that the observer’s
physiological state can affect his
perception of spatial layout.
? Can a mood manipulation
influence judgments of spatial
• Do sad moods make us see hills as
Measures of Geographical Slant
Set the board to equal the slant of the hill
For each of the following words, rate how well it describes you at this moment
The findings of this study are consistent with previous findings in the
Proffitt Lab, but also seem to complicate the construct of perceived effort and
physiological state. Consistent with previous findings, the verbal and visual
judgments seemed to be affected by the manipulation, while the haptic judgment
remained accurate in both groups. This dissociation offers further evidence that
the verbal and visual estimates are associated with a different representation than
the haptic palmboard estimate. In the past, this has been explained by Milner
and Goodale’s two visual streams; one responsible for conscious cognitive
planning, and the other the online visual control of action. Our evidence suggest
no reason for departing from that explanation.
While the pattern of change is nearly identical to that of previous studies,
(Bhalla and Proffitt 1999, Proffitt et al 1995) the previous studies are either clear
manipulations of perceived effort, such as a heavy backpack, or demonstrations
of the influence of physiological state, such as fatigue, physical fitness, or old
age and declining health. The variable in this study is simply different types of
music, previously known to trigger different mood states. Manipulations of
mood state have been shown to influence cognition in the past (Clore, 1992;
Schwarz, 1998; Gasper & Clore, in press) but influences on perception are more
rare and controversial. Is this an influence of mood on perception, or mood on
This research suggests two avenues of future research. First of all,
similar to other findings of mood manipulations in the affect-as-information
hypothesis, would an attribution manipulation (reminding the participants of
their mood state) nullify the effects? Secondly, is mood the only thing being
manipulated? We intend on measuring heart rate as a rough estimate of arousal
to determine whether arousal may be moderating the effect of mood.
• Different mood states can influence conscious judgments of geographical slant.
• Participants who listened to sad music verbally judged the slope of a 5 degree hill to be
(on average) over 30 degrees.
• Participants who listened to happy music verbally judged the slope of a 5 degree hill to
be (on average) around 20 degrees.
• Future research will investigate whether the music is actually influencing mood alone,
or if the observed effect is due to a relative change in heart rate or arousal, and an
associated change in perceived geographical slant
Happy, Upset, Joyful, Elated, Bored, Disturbed,
Content, Confused, Satisfied, Sad, Glum, Upset
* Adapted from Larsen &
• Hills appear steeper to those who are
wearing a heavy backpack, are fatigued, or are
elderly (Bhalla & Proffitt, 1999)
• Conscious estimates of spatial layout are
affected by the manipulation of physiological
potential, but visually guided actions are not.
• Dissociation of the 2 visual streams of
processing (Milner & Goodale, 1995)
Listen to music (10 minutes)
- 11 participants listened to “happy” music
- Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
- for sample, listen at left
- 11 participants listened to “sad” music
- Mahler’s Adagietto
- for sample, listen at right
Perceptual Matching Task
Which of the two figures on
the bottom is most similar
to the figure on the top?
Left = local characteristics (made up of triangles)
Right = global characteristics (shape of a square)
How steep is that hill (in degrees) ?
Set the disk to the slant of the hill
Haptic Palmboard Estimate (degrees)
Verbal Estimate by Mood Group
Visual Estimate by Mood Group
Haptic Estimate by Mood Group
Verbal estimates were significantly
different across mood group
Visual estimates exhibited a non-
significant difference trend across
Haptic estimates were not different
across mood group