Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The power of positivity: Do emotions influence attentional breadth?

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:29 authored by Derham, Crysta

Fredrickson's (2001) broaden and build theory describes how experiencing positive emotions, such as happiness, broadens our 'thought-action repertoire' leading us to be more likely to go out and act on our positive emotions. This results in the building of new relationships, resources and skills, which we can draw on in times of need throughout life. In contrast, the experience of negative emotion is thought to narrow our 'thought-action repertoire', leading to specific actions to aid in survival (Fredrickson, 2001). The current experiments aimed to explore the effect of briefly presented schematic faces (happy, sad, and neutral) on attentional scope using the flanker task. Based on the broaden and build theory it was hypothesised that there would be an increase in reaction time in trials primed with a happy face due to a broadening of attention, leading to increased flanker interference. A decrease in reaction time was predicted for trials primed with a sad face, due to a narrowing of attention leading to less flanker interference. Results lend partial support to the broaden and build hypothesis, with reaction times being slower following happy primes in incongruent flanker trials in Experiment 1. Recent research is discussed in regards to potential mediators of the relationship between emotion and attention.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


McDowall, John