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Negative Emotions Affect Sensory Perception Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2021

Research Rationale

The original research article by Kelley and Schmeichel explored the influence of negative emotions on the sensory perceptions of individuals, which is a topic closely connected to senses and brain functioning. In their investigation, the scholars tested opposing hypotheses regarding the influence of fear on the tactile perception of subjects (Kelley & Schmeichel 1). The rationale for the study is based on the idea that when an individual experiences a threatening situation and feels fear, which is a psychological trigger, recognizable physical responses occur. Therefore, fearful stimuli can lead to the development of manifestations that either increase or reduce sensitivity.


The first hypothesis referred to the idea of evolutionary considerations predicting the enhancement of sensory perceptions such as tactile sensitivity. A hypothesis that competed with the one mentioned above was based on studies of peripheral psychophysiology predicting that feat decreases tactile sensitivity. On the one hand, the evolutionary perspective included in the first hypothesis is based on evidence that fear boosts the visual field of an individual, speeds up the movements of the eye, as well as leads to nasal volume increases and air velocity during inspiration (Kelley & Schmeichel 1).

On the other hand, the second hypothesis is based on evidence that “peripheral psychophysiological correlates of negative emotions. Specifically, research has observed that fear-related responses (e.g., responses to real or perceived threats) tend to be associated with increased vascular resistance and decreased peripheral temperature” (Kelley & Schmeichel 1). Thus, the researchers had the aim of testing both hypotheses and finding evidence in experiments that would either support or disprove them.


To investigate the hypotheses, the researchers completed three studies. In the first study, different states of emotion (e.g., anger, fear, or neutral) were induced through the use of emotional memory and the measurement of tactile sensitivity. 55 female and 33 male participants were involved in the study, with the majority of the sample (69.3%) being Caucasian. The experiment involved a two-point discrimination task, during which participants received 20 pokes on their fingers with a distinct distribution of sensation and random selection of points. After the manipulation, the participants reported their levels of fear, with the responses being combined into a single average score.

In the second study, the sample of participants was instructed to view a series of images that would elicit such emotions as anger, fear, and neutral mood. After this, subjects reviewed the images and rated their feelings using items associated with specific feelings elicited during the viewing. In the third study, a sample of 46 undergraduate students at Texas A&M University was used in exchange for additional credit in their psychology course. Participants were asked to report their beliefs regarding how their emotions influenced their sensitivity to tactile feelings using a Likert-type scale (from 1 – less sensitive to 7 – more sensitive).

Summary of Findings

The findings of the experiments point to the existence of connections between tactile sensitivity and emotions. In study 1, it was revealed that fear could reduce tactile sensitivity of subjects, with “participants induced to experience fear exhibited reduced tactile sensitivity relative to participants who recalled angering and neutral memories” (Kelley & Schmeichel 3). In study 2, the effects observed in study 1 were replicated using a different method of emotional induction. However, the results were similar: compared to the emotional states of anger or neutrality, viewing fear-inducing images reduced tactile sensitivity.

The findings of study three were opposite to the findings of the previous two experiments. The responses of participants indicated that experiencing fear was more likely to evoke negative emotions. These beliefs can be considered naïve because they go against the experiments conducted in studies 1 and 2, which were not driven by opinions but rather scientific findings. The first two studies were found to be significant with the second hypothesis proposed at the beginning of the research. Thus, fear is the emotion that decreases tactile sensitivity if compared to other variables such as angry or neutral states.

Implications of the Study

Implications of the study for future research in psychology are vast due to the connections between the senses of an individual and his or her emotional state. The three studies conducted as part of research “are consistent with models of emotion associated with three or more dimensions. For example, the three-dimensional model that view feelings in a valence – arousal – motivational direction” (Kelley & Schmeichel 7).

While previous studies on similar topics focused on the issue of visual perception, the current experiments are useful for observing the way in which emotional experiences increased tactile perception. It is also notable to mention that the findings do not necessarily oppose the idea that fear has an adaptive influence on perception. Therefore, further studies should aim at refining evolution-based theories of emotional impact on perceptions to determine why lower sensitivity may have an adaptive influence on fear responses. It is possible that fear has the unique quality of enhancing some sensory perception forms but only at the expense of other systems of perception.

Individual Reactions to the Research

The research of the effects of negative emotions on sensory perception gives valuable insights into the nature of human emotions and provides for better differentiation between fear and anger. Even though one could naively assume that fear enhances tactile perception, the study has shown that fear reduces it. It should be stated that in order to confirm their findings, the researchers have completed several studies with different methods of emotion induction. However, a curious reader would find the authors’ explanation of the mechanism of the fear-touch relationship insufficient. Also, it would be great to learn the reasons for the difference between the findings of the current study and those of the previous research.

Work Cited

Kelley, Nicholas, and Brandon Schmeichel. “The Effects of Negative Emotions on Sensory Perception: Fear but Not Anger Decreases Tactile Sensitivity.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 1-8.

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