The relation between mood and perceptual bias as measured in a binocular rivalry task




Winnette, Miles

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Bower's (1981) semantic network theory of emotion and Beck's (1967, 1976, 1979, 1987) theory of depression predict that mood is related to a perceptual bias for mood-congruent material. While several studies have demonstrated a relationship between anxiety and perceptual bias (MacLeod, Mathews, & Tata, 1986), Gilson (1983) is among the few to have found a relationship between perceptual bias and depression.

Gilson used a binocular rivalry task to compare the perceptual responses of depressed versus nondepressed subjects. The task involved simultaneously presenting a different slide to each eye of a subject for 0.5 second. Each slide in the pair was matched in physical characteristics but differed in having a positive or negative affective tone (e.g., a smiling face versus a frowning face). Gilson found that depressed subjects saw more negative and less positive content than nondepressed subjects. Depressed subjects also saw more negative than positive content, while nondepressed subjects reversed this pattern. Gilson concluded from these results that subjects resolve the visual ambiguity in a rivalry task by perceiving the content closest to their own cognitive/emotional state.

The present study was designed to replicate and improve upon Gilson's work. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) was used to divide 66 female university students into two groups: (a) 30 "dysphoric" subjects who reported a significant number of depressive symptoms (BDI 10) and (b) 36 "nondysphoric" subjects who reported few depressive symptoms (BDI < 10).

Results of a Hotelling's T\sp2 indicated that dysphoric and nondysphoric subjects did not differ significantly in their perceptual reports in a rivalry task. Results of t-tests for dependent samples revealed that both groups reported significantly more positive than negative content.

However, an evaluation of subjects' responses to each slide pair indicated that 10 of the 15 pairs either had contents which subjects did not recognize or had one slide with dominant physical qualities. An adequate test of the relation between mood and perceptual bias depends on having recognizable and physically equivalent slides so that the primary determinant of subjects' perceptual choice is the different affective tone of each slide in a pair. Therefore, the validity of the present results is questionable.

In conclusion, the present study revealed serious inadequacies in the stimulus qualities of the slide pairs which precluded a fair test of the hypotheses. Future research which employs the binocular rivalry method in the study of mood and perception should begin with the development of slide pairs which are reliable and valid for this research.



Psychology, Bias, Binocular, Binocular rivalry, Mood