Don't like what you see? Give it time: Longer reaction times associated with increased positive affect

Maital Neta, Tien T. Tong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Images with an ambiguous valence (e.g., surprised facial expressions) are interpreted by some people as having a negative valence, and by others, as having a more positive valence. Despite these individual differences in valence bias, the more automatic interpretation is negative, and positivity appears to require regulation. Interestingly, extant research has shown that there is an age-related positivity effect such that relative to young adults, older adults attend to and remember positive more than negative information. In this report, the authors show that this positivity effect extends to emotional ambiguity (Experiment 1). Eighty participants (aged 19-71, 42 females) rated the valence of images with a clear or ambiguous valence. They found that age correlated with valence bias, such that older adults showed a more positive bias, and they took longer to rate images, than younger adults. They also found that this increase in reaction times was sufficient to bias positivity (Experiment 2). Thirty-four participants (aged 18-28, 24 females) rated ambiguous and clear images, before and after an instruction to delay their RTs. They also found that although ratings among individuals with a positive bias did not change, those with a negative bias became more positive when encouraged to delay. Indeed, participants with the strongest negativity bias showed the greatest increase in RTs. Taken together, this work demonstrates that the valence bias, which represents a stable, trait-like difference across people, can be moved in the positive direction, at least temporarily, when participants are encouraged to take their time and consider alternatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-739
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2016


  • Aging
  • Emotional ambiguity
  • Individual differences
  • Negativity bias
  • Reaction time (RT)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Don't like what you see? Give it time: Longer reaction times associated with increased positive affect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this