Is Happy Far?

Yesterday I suggested that blueis-far might explain the cross-cultural association of blue with these concepts: cold, rational, art, gods, freedom, loyalty.  However, blue is also associated with unhappy and trouble.  So I sought more data on near-far and happiness.  I found:

Happier people tend to think about themselves with higher level of abstraction than less happy people, even after controlling for the overall valence and internality of their construals. … People randomly assigned to think about themselves in abstract rather than concrete terms reported greater pre- to post-manipulation increases in reports of life satisfaction. (more)

Five experiments indicated that a positive (vs. negative) mood increases abstract (concrete) construal. … Participants in a positive (vs.negative) mood came up with more abstract descriptions of activities, indicated that abstract goals were more important, … The effect of mood on construal results in increased adoption of whatever abstract goal is accessible and … the effects are mediated by construal level. (more)

Experiential purchases – those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience – made them happier than material purchases. In a follow-up laboratory experiment, participants experienced more positive feelings after pondering an experiential purchase than after pondering a material purchase. In another experiment, participants were more likely to anticipate that experiences would make them happier than material possessions after adopting a temporally distant, versus a temporally proximate, perspective. (more)

So it seems being happy makes you think far, and thinking far makes you happy, and better able to see what makes you happy.  This conflicts with blue’s concept associations with unhappiness, and weakens support for blue-is-far.  Color me confused.

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  • Bill

    Color you Blue?

  • http://modeledbehavior.com Karl Smith

    Is there a paper or post summarizing this Near-Far distinction and why you believe it is so important / pervasive?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Karl, follow the link at near-far.

  • http://malalex.posterous.com Mala Lex

    The Conservatives are the Daddy party, the Progressives the Mommy party, right? Meanwhile, blue is for boys, pink is for girls, right?

    So blue is stable hierarchy where you get what you deserve (per some relatively stable scale), in other words, Dad. Then red is disruptive, everybody-gets-a-shot, and what you deserve can be vetoed if the result is unfair. In other words, Mom.

  • Jesse M.

    A hypothesis about this: maybe the “far” mode is associated with left-brain cognitive modes and the “near” mode is associated with the right? I’ve recently been reading The Master and His Emissary, a fascinating book about the left brain/right brain division…the book is a bit overlong, but I think the most interesting stuff is in the first few chapters (the later chapters deal more with the author’s ideas about how the different modes of the two hemispheres have influenced various historical movements), especially chapter 2, “what do the two hemispheres ‘do’?”, where the author summarizes research about differences between the two hemispheres. The left hemisphere definitely seems to deal in simplified abstractions of situations, which I’d associate with the “far” mode (like the more simple and monolithic view we tend to have of foreign cultures), whereas the right deals in a more intuitive gestalt pictures that capture more complex nuances but are harder to summarize in symbolic terms (like the feeling of ‘knowing’ a close friend without being able to summarize this knowledge to a stranger). And as discussed on p. 84, the left brain tends towards an over-optimistic idealized view of the world, whereas the right has a somewhat more “melancholy” (but also more realistic) view:

    The right hemisphere is also more realistic about how it stands in relation to the world at large, less grandiose, more self-aware, than the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere is ever optimistic, but unrealistic about its short-comings. When patients who have had a right-hemisphere stroke are offered constructive guidance about their performance it makes little impact. In the words of one researcher into head injury, ‘children with right-brain deficity disorder ignore task obstacles, accept impossible challenges, make grossly inadequate efforts, and are stunned by the poor outcomes. These children act fearless because they overlook the dangers inherent in the situation.’ A highly intelligent professional described by Stuss was completely unaware of his lack of capacity to do his job after the removal of a tumour in the right prefrontal cortex. When asked to role-play as an occupational health adviser to someone with his problems, he appropriately advised medical retirement, but when asked to apply this insight to his own situation he was completely unable to do so. There are many similar case reports.

    Although relatively speaking the right hemisphere takes a more pessimistic view of the self, it is also more realistic about it. There is evidence that (a) those who are somewhat depressed are more realistic, including in self-evaluation; and, see above, that (b) depression is (often) a condition of relative hemisphere asymmetry, favouring the right hemisphere. Even schizophrenics have more insight into their condition in proportion to the degree that they have depressive symptoms. The evidence is that this is not because insight makes you depressed, but because being depressed gives you insight.

    Insight into illness generally is dependent on the right hemisphere, and those who have damage to the right hemisphere tend to deny their illness–the well-recognised, and extraordinary phenomenon of anosognosia, in which patients deny or radically minimise the fact that they have, for example, a blatant loss of what may be one entire half of the body. A patient with a completely paralysed (left) limb may pointedly refuse to accept that there is anything wrong with it, and will come up with the most preposterous explanations for why he is not actually able to move it on request. This happens to some degree in the majority of cases after a stroke affecting the left side of the body (involving right-hemisphere damage), but practically never after a right-sided stroke (involving left-hemisphere damage). The phenomenon of denial can be temporarily reversed by activating the affected right hemisphere. Equally, denial of illness (anosognosia) can be induced by anaesthetising the right hemisphere.

    Note that it is not just a blindness, a failure to see–it’s a willfull denial. Hoff and Pötzl describe a patient who demonstrates this beautifully: ‘On examination, when she is shown her left hand in the right visual field, she looks away and says ‘I don’t see it.’ She spontaneously hides her left hand under the bedclothes or puts it behind her back. She never looks to the left, even when called from that side.’

    In right-hemisphere lesions, there is not only denial or indifference in the face of incapacity, but sometimes a disturbance of mood ‘reminiscent of the fatuousness of those with frontal lesions: euphoria, joviality, a penchant for feeble puns’. One of the patients reported by Hécaen and de Ajuriaguerra, who had complete hemi-asomatognosia caused by a parietal tumour ‘exhibited a surprising joviality, at the same time complaining of a fierce headache’.

    Denial is a left-hemisphere specialty: in states of relative right-hemisphere inactivation, in which there is therefore a bias toward the left hemisphere, subjects tend to evaluate themselves optimistically, view pictures more positively, and are more apt to stick to their existing point of view. In the presence of a right-hemisphere stroke, the left hemisphere is ‘crippled by naively optimistic forecasting of outcomes’. It is always a winner: winning is associated with activation of the left amygdala, losing with right amygdala activation.

    There are links here with the right hemisphere’s tendency to melancholy. If there is a tendency for the right hemisphere to be more sorrowful and prone to depression, this can, in my view, be seen as related not only to being more in touch with what’s going on, but more in touch with, and concerned for, others. ‘No man is an island’: it is the right hemisphere of the human brain that ensures that we feel part of the main. The more we are aware of and empathically connected to whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, the more we are likely to suffer. Sadness and empathy are highly correlated: this can be seen in studies of children and adolescents. There is also a direct correlation between sadness and empathy, on the one hand, and feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility, on the other. Psychopaths, who have no sense of guilt, shame or responsibility, have deficits in the right frontal lobe, particularly the right ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortex.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen R. Diamond

      A hypothesis about this: maybe the “far” mode is associated with left-brain cognitive modes and the “near” mode is associated with the right?

      The left-hemisphere is like far-mode in its abstractness and generality, but it is more like near-mode in its analytic character and its sequentiality. Near and far crosscuts left and right. It seems far matter is processed more deeply whereas near matter is processed more thoroughly.

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  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    Maybe it’s just that for most people, the present sucks.

    • sonja

      Lol +1

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  • gsrk

    It seems to me that the “egocentric/allocentric pathways” that the speaker discusses at the below link are somewhat similar to the near/far mode distinctions:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEIXijQctlQ

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  • sonja

    Blue is rational, sadness is rational, sadness is blue. This isn’t contradictory at all.

  • Leehale77

    We all strive to find and keep happiness. You need to find real joy in your heart in order to be truly happy in spite of the circumstances surrounding you. Happiness is neither near or far. It’s something you find within yourself.
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  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen R. Diamond

    So it seems being happy makes you think far, and thinking far makes you happy, and better able to see what makes you happy.  This conflicts with blue’s concept associations with unhappiness, and weakens support for blue-is-far.  Color me confused.

    Well, you better get color sorted out, or your book will be … colorless.

    I think blue is clearly far. A pure far effect occurs with lighter shades of blue; dark blue is sad, particularly when it leans toward purpose. (This, my guess, might be explained by the association of darkness with sadness, and blue being the darkest actual color.)

    But even when sad, blue remains far. When you refer to sadness as being blue, you take a far view of yourself–as opposed to referring to yourself as miserable or demoralized. People who are sad like blues music because it encourages a far view of their misery, which–in accord with theory–makes them less miserable.

    A little more speculatively, I think a yellowish green is a near color. Foragers have to look at nature up close, I suppose. I just find that this color makes me want to examine the texture; blue the opposite.

    Still more speculatively–and based primarily of an N of 2 including me–I think color preferences go the opposite way: people inclined to near mode like far colors and vice verse. The best way to verify individual differences on mode preferences that I know of (speculatively) is an educator’s test of global (far) versus sequential (near) learning styles, which I reference at http://tinyurl.com/7faf9nz .

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen R. Diamond

      “leans toward purpose.”

      Should be “leans toward purple

  • Jenna Major

    I agree with this. When i am happy I easily see the big picture. But when I’m not I tend to dwell on my sad situation. San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney Reviews

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