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The Broaden Hypothesis


One central hypothesis, drawn from Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory, is the broaden hypothesis. It states that discrete positive emotions broaden the scopes of attention and cognition and lead to a widened array of thoughts and action impulses in the mind. A corollary to this hypothesis is that negative emotions shrink these same arrays. Several recent studies from our lab provide converging support for this hypothesis.


1. Global Bias in Global-Local Visual Processing: We induced positive, negative, and neutral emotions using short video clips. Following the emotion induction, we assessed breadth of attention to “the big picture” or “details.” Participants who saw the positive emotion videos showed a bias towards seeing stimuli globally.

figure 1


2. Enlarging Thought-Action Repertoires: Similar to the study described above, participants watched emotion-eliciting videos.  Afterwards, participants indicated all of the action urges they had at that moment.  It turned out that people induced to feel a positive emotion listed a greater number of action-urges than people induced to feel negative or neutral emotions.

figure 2


3. Inclusive social thinking:  A highly robust finding is that people exhibit a tendency to recognize people of their same race better than those of a different race.  The effect is referred to as the “Own-Race Bias” in face perception.  In one of our experiments, Caucasian participants viewed Black and White faces and were later asked to recall if they had seen the faces previously. Additionally, by random assignment, they viewed a video to elicit joy, fear, or neutrality prior to the facial recognition task. Results showed that when we induce positive emotions in people, the own-race bias is is eliminated.

Figure 3


Fredrickson & Branigan (2005) Cognition and Emotion
Johnson & Fredrickson (2005) Psychological Science


Related Research:
The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions
The Build Hypothesis
The Undoing Hypothesis
Positivity Ratios