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Research has shown that positive affect increases the breadth of information processing at several higher stages of information processing, such as attentional selection or knowledge activation. In the present study, we examined whether these affective influences are already present at the level of transiently storing incoming information in sensory memory, before attentional selection takes place. After inducing neutral, happy, or sad affect, participants performed an iconic memory task which measures visual sensory memory. In all conditions, iconic memory performance rapidly decreased with increasing delay between stimulus presentation and test, indicating that affect did not influence the decay of iconic memory. However, positive affect increased the amount of incoming information stored in iconic memory. In particular, our results showed that this occurs due to an elimination of the spatial bias typically observed in iconic memory. Whereas performance did not differ at positions where observers in the neutral and negative conditions showed the highest performance, positive affect enhanced performance at all positions where observers in the neutral and negative conditions were relatively “blind.” These findings demonstrate that affect influences the breadth of information processing already at earliest processing stages, suggesting that affect may produce an even more fundamental shift in information processing than previously believed.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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