The effect of mood state on visual search times for detecting a target in noise: An application of smartphone technology

Toru Maekawa, Stephen J. Anderson*, Matthew De Brecht, Noriko Yamagishi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of visual perception has largely been completed without regard to the influence that an individual’s emotional status may have on their performance in visual tasks. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that mood may affect not only creative abilities and interpersonal skills but also the capacity to perform low-level cognitive tasks. Here, we sought to determine whether rudimentary visual search processes are similarly affected by emotion. Specifically, we examined whether an individual’s perceived happiness level affects their ability to detect a target in noise. To do so, we employed pop-out and serial visual search paradigms, implemented using a novel smartphone application that allowed search times and self-rated levels of happiness to be recorded throughout each twenty-four-hour period for two weeks. This experience sampling protocol circumvented the need to alter mood artificially with laboratory-based induction methods. Using our smartphone application, we were able to replicate the classic visual search findings, whereby pop-out search times remained largely unaffected by the number of distractors whereas serial search times increased with increasing number of distractors. While pop-out search times were unaffected by happiness level, serial search times with the maximum numbers of distractors (n = 30) were significantly faster for high happiness levels than low happiness levels (p = 0.02). Our results demonstrate the utility of smartphone applications in assessing ecologically valid measures of human visual performance. We discuss the significance of our findings for the assessment of basic visual functions using search time measures, and for our ability to search effectively for targets in real world settings.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0195865
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Maekawa et al. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited


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