When I'm feeling sad, I tend to want the world around me to reflect that feeling. I want it to exist as a bundle of grey blankets and colorless skies, soft rain and, Earl Grey tea (yup, I even want my tea grey). Luckily, it turns out my brain might be doing half the work of that for me. According to new research published in the Association for Psychological Science, feeling sad actually impairs color perception — so believe it or not, you might not just be imagining a drabber world when you're going through a breakup, grieving a death, or dealing with depression.
Specifically, people who feel sad — as opposed to neutral-feeling or amused people — have trouble picking out specific colors along the spectrum from blue to yellow, according to a press release from the journal. “Our results show that mood and emotion can affect how we see the world around us,” says psychology researcher Christopher Thorstenson, one of the authors of the research. “Our work advances the study of perception by showing that sadness specifically impairs basic visual processes that are involved in perceiving color.”
Thostenson and the rest of the researchers were piggybacking on earlier research that showed that emotion literally influences the way we see the world, including sensitivity to color contrast (that is, what we mean when we say a color "pops"). What's particularly trippy is that the researchers think all these visual effects related to sadness are why color-related metaphors concerning melancholy, like "feeling blue" or "feeling gray," emerged to begin with. Does this mean that when we're angry, we really do see red? Researchers, get on that!) The effect was incredible specific and only along the blue-yellow axis, meaning that the results can't be explained by mere differences in effort or attention.
The practical application of the findings is unclear. Obviously, we know how to help ourselves when we're sad — therapy, self-care, friends, Beach Boys songs. But is there a way to do it through color? For instance, maybe there's a way to fix the way we see color when we're sad, thus making us happier? Who knows! I can offer you one bit of advice, however. Researchers induced sadness in their subjects by showing a clip from an animated movie. The clip was lab-tested to ensure that it would produce sadness. I did some research and apparently the clip was the scene of Mufasa dying in The Lion King. So avoid that, for the sake of your mental health.