Can A Puppy Make Us A Better Noticer?

Last month I wrote about different ways we can increase our luck. I referenced a study that showed how lucky people tend to notice things more frequently than unlucky people. Lucky people are more relaxed and thus able to notice chance opportunities going on around them.

While I definitely think this makes sense, it kinda bummed me out.

I consider myself to be a relaxed person, but I very rarely notice little things going on around me. I have lived in the same house for 8 years, but I don’t think I could tell you if there is a tree or not in my front yard. You could probably steal one item a day from my room and it would take months before I realized things were missing.

I just do not observe the world around me very well. So you can see why I would be bummed to find out that this ability has a direct correlation to luck.

It is one thing to point out that noticing things can increase our fortune, but that alone doesn’t really help. What I want to know is how can we become better noticers (or is it noticees?).

Good News

Well, I think I have found a way…and it is actually quite simple. Stay with me, I promise it will be simple but first we have to look at some science.

Scientists are able to use magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track changes in blood flow inside people’s brains. Some of the changes they can track are the brain’s reaction to human faces (the extrastriate fusiform face area, or FFA) & the brain’s reaction to places (the parahippocampal place area, or PPA).

One experiment wanted to track the movement in the FFA & PPA by asking participants to look at a series of photos, and quickly determine if the face in the photo was male or female. The participants were told to ignore everything else in the picture.

The answer of male or female was very clear, making the task was extremely easy. However, this was not the main point of the study.

Each male or female face was included within a picture of a detailed location, such as outside of a house with a for sale sign in the front yard. The experimenters wanted to test whether the participant’s FFA & PPA became activated during the procedure.

To add more detail to the experiment, the images used in the test were randomly preceded by positive, neutral or negative images. The images were straightforward and simple, such as pictures of puppies. By tracking blood flow within the FFA and PPA, the researchers could compare how wide or narrow each participant’s perceptual field of view was when influenced by the different emotional images.

What Did They Find?

The results were the following:

  • Negative emotions reduced blood flow within the PPA, narrowing people’s perceptions.
  • Neutral emotions were very similar to negative emotions.
  • Positive emotions increased blood flow within PPA and broadened a person’s perception.

In simpler terms, when people felt a negative emotion they ignored their surroundings, such as the presence of a house. But when they felt a positive emotion, people not only registered the faces, but they also noticed the places.

The researchers concluded that when feeling good, you can’t help but notice more information in your background.

If you are still with me and haven’t clicked out of the page by now, you are probably thinking – great, all I have to do is feel good all the time and then I will be able to notice all the lovely butterflies and dandelions. Thanks a lot, I didn’t know I should try to feel good.

The Simple Part

Here’s where I get back to the simple part I promised earlier…

Yes, it is not groundbreaking to say that we should all want to feel good. But as the above study shows, it doesn’t take much to feel good.

The participants increased their blood flow within PPA by simply looking a picture of puppies. They didn’t have to win the lottery or find their soulmate.

We think that a positive experience needs to be pulled from the script of The Notebook in order to make us feel better. In actuality, far less intense positive emotions – such as listening to cheerful music or looking at happy images – can be enough to increase our noticie-ablity (or is it notice-ology?).

When we feel good, we notice more things. And when we notice more things we can become luckier by acting on those opportunities. Seems pretty simple to me.



Source: Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson

Photo credit: Wikipedia