You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Psychology of Social Connection

Seeing the World Through Foggy Rose Colored Glasses

February 13th, 2023 · 14 Comments

QOTD: Do We Remember Our Old Cars With Rose Colored Glasses? | Curbside Classic

By: Elle Freedman and Wendy Carballo

“Oh, so you study psychology at Harvard? Does that mean you can read my mind?”

No psychology concentrator at Harvard has escaped this inevitable conversation. What if instead of the typical eye-roll response, you tell them “actually, reading minds isn’t a skill reserved for psych majors. Making inferences about what someone else is thinking is crucial for forming social connections and navigating everyday life.” Either they’ll get an unnecessary ego-boost or ask you to explain mentalization and the theory of mind. 

Mind perception consists of two components, mind detection and mentalizing. Mind detection is simply the notion of identifying another entity with a mind. Mentalizing, or theory of mind, is the ability to infer thoughts, feelings, and desires from other people. Mentalizing allows us to humanize, connect with others, and synchronize behavior to strengthen relationships. But what happens when one’s personal feelings and biases get in the way of mentalization? Can your internal emotions affect your ability to mentalize, possibly over-mentalize, and perhaps become blind to lies and deception? Does seeing the world through rose-colored glasses improve our relationships, or set us up for failure?

Wendy: Being Happy Can Turn a Blind Eye to Reality 

In 2008, researchers Joseph Forgas and Rebekah East made an attempt to illuminate these questions by studying the effect of mood on skepticism and the detection of deception. Specifically, they set up a blind experiment in which undergraduate students were randomly assigned to watch either a neutral, positive, or a negative film meant to induce a happy, neutral, or a sad mood, respectively. After watching the videos, participants were asked to watch multiple clips of males and females who were either honest or deceptive during their testimony of an alleged theft. Finally, to confirm the intended mood-induction, participants took a survey in which they rated their feelings based on a good-bad and a happy-sad scale. 

The results of this study were insightful. As indicated by the scales, it was found that participants who were in the happy mood condition experienced significantly more positive feelings compared to those in the neutral and negative mood conditions. Conversely, participants in the negative mood condition experienced significantly more negative feelings compared to those in the neutral and happy mood conditions which affirms the experimenter’s ability to control mood affect. Moreover, consistent with their hypothesis, participants in the happy mood condition reported greater judgements of innocence regarding the theft testimonies, while participants in the sad mood condition reported greater judgements of guilt. Happy and neutral participants failed to distinguish between innocent and guilty targets, showing that mood has a greater influence on guilt judgments of deception than truthful communications. 

These findings have some intriguing implications regarding mentalization and our interpersonal relationships. Specifically, the idea that experiencing happy moods can hinder our ability to detect lies and lead to false judgments of other people’s actions suggests that positive feelings can hinder our mentalization skills. Conversely, experiencing sad or negative moods can enhance our ability to detect deception and hence read other people’s minds. 


Elle: Emotion and the Fundamental Attribution Theory

Furthermore, a positive mood goes hand in hand with the fundamental attribution error. Forgas and Wyland’s book Emotional Intelligence in Everyday Life pools together various studies that affirm the way one feels is inseparable from our cognition and how we subsequently act and make social judgements. In one study, Forgas asked happy or sad people to observe and rate their own and their partner’s behaviors in a videotaped social encounter. The experiment involved conditioning the emotional affect of either happy or sad moods, and then rewatching a video tape of a previous interaction with them and their experimental partners. The group conditioned to be happy “saw” more positive, skilled and fewer negative, unskilled behaviors in themselves and in their partners than did sad subjects (Forgas and Wyland 2006). This is consistent with the idea that people pay attention to affect-consistent rather than affect-inconsistent information, and that can have major implications in the way that we try to make sense of complex and inherently ambiguous social behaviors, which is the underlying mechanics of mentalization. 

This has direct relevance to the fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors (individual characteristics that influence behavior, like personality traits and temperament) when forming impressions on others, and to underestimate the importance of the situation that the observed behavior is occurring (O’Sullivan). Forgas put the question of temporary mood’s influence on the occurrence of the fundamental attribution error to the test in a single study of three separate experiments. In the first experiment, participants were conditioned to have either a happy or sad temporary mood and then read an essay and make judgments about the writer. The results showed that happy mood emphasized dispositional inferences over all other stimuli, which resulted in committing the fundamental attribution error, despite being controlled for coercive behaviors. Conversely, the group that was manipulated to have a temporary bad mood gave more weight to external stimuli, therefore being more situationally analytical in their inferences (Forgas 323). Essentially, the group manipulated to be happy was more likely to agree and positively rate a highly popular and coercive essay, whereas the sad group was much more stringent on their judgements and did not fall into the persuasive content of the essays. Negative moods decrease and positive moods increase the FAE because of the information processing consequences of these affective states (Forgas 318). Sad people are less likely to be fooled and coerced, whereas happy people are easily convinced and susceptible to other people’s opinions. 


So are you telling me that being sad will improve my mentalizing skills and I’ll make more friends? 

Not necessarily! Positive and negative moods both have their advantages and disadvantages in social behavior. In regards to mind perception and mentalization, however, these studies raise the thought that it might be advantageous to be a bit more skeptical in judging social cues, and having a negative mood emphasizes situational factors in judgements rather than dispositional. So, mentalizing and forming social bonds is deeper than just recognizing other’s conscious experiences and trying to infer- your own mind and mood could be influencing how you interpret the actions of others and subsequently how you connect with them. The best thing to do may be to just wipe the dust and fog off your glasses before you put them back on!

So then, what does this say about our ability to socialize and create connections? Should we monitor our moods in the presence of others? If you’re a social butterfly or an extrovert, this information has surely shaken your world as our ability to make friends is greatly dependent on our ability to understand others’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Surely if one has high energy and thrives in the social scene, then chances are that one is more gullible and less able to understand other people’s minds, correct? Not quite. 

While our judgment skills are certainly influenced by our feelings and emotions, positive feelings towards social interactions need not be mutually exclusive with mentalization and social connection. As Waytz and Epley (2011) underlined in their paper about the effect of social connection on dehumanization, feeling socially connected or satiated can lessen our desire for more relationships and thus lead to the dehumanization of distant others. (Dehumanization, in this context, meaning a decreased practice of mentalization or attribution of human characteristics to others). This would imply then that we can create social connections by putting on our mentalization hats and actively attempting to understand others. Through these lenses, positive feelings in the presence of others need not decrease our ability to read others’ minds but instead motivate us to do so. In other words, we just need a desire to connect and mindfully pursue it. 




Forgas, J. P., & Wyland, C. L. (2006). Affective intelligence: Understanding the role of affect in everyday social behavior. Emotional intelligence in everyday life, 77-99.

Forgas. (1998). On Being Happy and Mistaken. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 318–331.

O’Sullivan. (2003). The Fundamental Attribution Error in Detecting Deception: The Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf Effect. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(10), 1316–1327.

Forgas, J. P., & East, R. (2008). On being happy and gullible: Mood effects on skepticism and the detection of deception. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1362–1367. 

Waytz, A., & Epley, N. (2012). Social Connection enables dehumanization. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 70–76.

Tags: Uncategorized

14 responses so far ↓

  • Sophia Gilroy // Feb 14th 2023 at 11:15 am

    I thought this blog post was a comprehensive and reflective piece about this week’s subject matter of mind perception. I appreciated how approachable and narrative-driven Elle and Wendy made this post from the very beginning as it facilitated an easier and deeper understanding of what they were discussing. In the first section regarding Forgas and East’s study, it was interesting just how easy it seems to be able to change a stranger’s entire mood in a limited amount of time. Furthermore, I found their findings on mood and detecting lies/deception to be both interesting and alarming. This can explain perhaps how master manipulators can take advantage of unknowing individuals by making them happy and then proceed with their true intentions. Reading about how this also connects to attribution error added another facet to the discussion and made me realize just how interconnected mood affect and social inferences/connections really are. I also appreciated how Wendy and Elle made sure to clarify that although the studies can make one think that being in a negative mood can make one see social interactions clearer, it does not mean that it is the end-all-be-all to being successful in forming connections and emphasizing that this is a multifaceted concept.

  • Rachel // Feb 14th 2023 at 12:23 pm

    It is interesting to think about how mood impacts our judgements, especially regarding other people. In conversations I’ve had with people in the past, the happiest people tend to assume the best intentions from others, whereas more “cynics” tend to assume the worst. It’s almost like cynicism is a way to protect yourself from being hurt by scammers, but then the “rose-colored glasses” protect from the hurt on the front end (to themselves). Especially in regards to connection, it points to the potential to be taken advantage of, but is probably less stressful to oneself to seek out connections actively. Overall, this was a really interesting thought experiment, and made me seriously contemplate the age-old optimism vs pessimism lens, and how I may not have given potential friends a fair shot…

  • Evan Tingler // Feb 14th 2023 at 4:20 pm

    I really enjoyed this blog and definitely relate to the opening line “Oh, so you study psychology at Harvard? Does that mean you can read my mind?” In fact, I was asked a variation of this question over the weekend! I was particularly fascinated by the Forgas and East paper discussing the effect of mood on detected deception. This made me think about all of the instances in which smart people could (and probably do) implement such a tactic to sway people (as mentioned in court cases, or politicians, etc.) – it is pretty unsettling. This is very applicable information and definitely leads me to want to be more aware of my moods and see if I can find effects on my consequent interpretations. I also thought a lot about the comment on extroverts and started to reflect on my own social tendencies. Although I am very social and deeply connected with my close friends, I am introverted and very cautious around new people (and tend to have a very unintentional RBF) which, now I recognize might be beneficial for me (yet probably off-putting for others – oops). I find it hard to balance caution and connection with new people, but maybe the key is really to have “​​a desire to connect and mindfully pursue it.” Well said.

  • Gena Williams // Feb 15th 2023 at 1:03 am

    Within the first line of this blog plot, I was instantly invested in reading more because I think the question about studying psychology and reading the mind of others is so relatable! I loved that Elle and Wendy continued to use engaging language throughout the blog post when referencing research articles and within the last section about how the studies shed light on our ability to create connections. I found the findings of Fargas & East (2008) that happiness can hinder one’s ability to detect lies while sadness can enhance the ability to detect deception and guilt to be very intriguing. As I read, I immediately thought about how an understanding of emotions and perceptions of guilt/deception could be applied to criminal justice, where the effect of negative moods could have a detrimental outcome. For example, a judge working through a situation in their home that negatively affects their moods could be more likely to perceive guilt when sentencing an individual. Elle and Wendy mention that the effect of mood and judgments can be applied to relationships with partner behavior (Forgas & Wyland, 2006), and I am curious to see if researchers have also explored this effect in other situations (i.e. criminal justice). I appreciated the inclusion of the last paragraph that “positive feelings in the presence of others may motivate us to connect and that a crucial factor in building social connections is the “desire to connect and mindfully pursue it.” I echo the sentiments of Evan in saying that the above statement is very well said and brings the entire conversation together at the end.

  • Cassie Sousa // Feb 15th 2023 at 10:25 am

    Thank you, Wendy and Elle, for this informative blog post! I thought you both did a great job with introducing new terms and concepts in a relatable, clear, and concise manner. I was particularly interested, though, by your discussion of the fundamental attribution error (FAE). I have discussed this phenomenon in other psychology classes before, and while I was reading your post, I thought about the contextual aspects of an interaction which can affect whether a person attributes a given behavior to personal or situational factors. I remember learning that the nature of the culture in which such an interaction takes place matters in that a person in an individualistic society, as opposed to someone in a collectivistic society, is more likely to attribute a certain behavior to personal factors rather than situational factors. Thus, people in individualistic societies, like in the United States, are more likely to fall prey to the FAE. So, I would be interested to learn more about the intersection of emotion and the FAE as it exists (or doesn’t) in more collectivistic societies, like China or India. Are people in collectivistic societies as susceptible to the effects of emotion on the occurrence of the FAE? Also, in the spirit of broadening this inquiry to fit the larger scope of your blog post, does emotion play as big of a role in judgment and mind perception, more generally, in collectivistic societies? Such questions might be interesting to explore further and/or discuss in class!

  • Ella Deans // Feb 15th 2023 at 12:16 pm

    I really loved this article (and of course the wonderful title and picture at the top). I think particularly important to me is the finding that “your own mind and mood could be influencing how you interpret the actions of others and subsequently how you connect with them.” Obviously a crucial finding in its own right – as connection is a fundamental aspect of our human existence – I found it especially enlightening when paired with the finding that participants in the innocence vs. guilt experiment were more likely to perceive the guilt of others if they themselves were in a bad mood. Though not exactly what the experiment was testing, I did find it generalizable to my everyday experience, wherein my being in bad mood has often increased my propensity to interpret others` words or actions in a negative light, when I otherwise would not have. Therefore, this article, for me, provided an excellent reminder of the importance of checking in with yourself and remaining aware of how your own emotional, physical, mental state is potentially impacting your perception. Really interesting stuff, and I cannot wait to discuss more in class! Also a brief note that I loved the writing style of this article and thought it struck a lovely balance between professionalism and a fun/light-hearted and inquisitive tone.

  • Karley Merkley // Feb 15th 2023 at 12:36 pm

    Hi! This was a very well written blog post about mind perception & social connection that is very applicable to everyone. As I was reading, I found myself thinking about the impact emotions have on our everyday lives. As I learned in a previous class we are constantly flowing on a scale of states and at any given moment we can be in any state. When looking at the Fargas and East paper it really illuminated how emotions can have an effect on our perceptions. It really got me thinking about if there is an ideal mood/state we should be in to not affect our perceptions?
    Moreover, looking at the Forgas & Wyland info it was not surprising that our mood affects our biases and perceptions for better and for worse. I am wondering what and if there are ways we can ignore our moods to see more clearly so our mood does not affect our perception. Lastly, this got me thinking about the first time you meet someone and how our mood can impact that but more importantly how that affects our interaction the next time around with the same person.

  • Jessica // Feb 15th 2023 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks Elle and Wendy for the first blogpost! I like the separation of your perspectives between these two points you shared about this week’s readings. It was also interesting to read as you brought up and answered the questions you predicted readers would have. This week’s readings and the arguments you made in this post made me think more about the imitation of perspectives and ideas in relationships. We know individuals imitate those around them, and we know perspective taking and mentalization are impacted by the way that we feel, so can romantic feelings or attraction serve as a motivation or barrier to mentalization? The studies you cited seem to suggest that’s possible. If happiness can hinder judgment of deception, then maybe it can cause an individual to take the perspectives of or imitate their partners without really thinking about what behavior or belief it is that they’re adopting. It’s so interesting that being skeptical of social cues can actually increase socialization! I would’ve assumed the opposite were true. Really interesting point to debunk in your post.

  • calliehem // Feb 15th 2023 at 7:53 pm

    It was really interesting to read about the affect of mood on our metallization ability. This is something that I have not spent much time thinking about and probably would have assumed that being happy would allow for a better interpretation of others’ actions. I was especially interested in the study that found that mood affects people’s perceptions of another’s innocence. This seems like a significant finding that may impact people within the justice system. Similarly, the point about sad moods allowing people to have better situational awareness when judging others is also really important. I really liked how the last section of the blog post clarified that one does not have to be sad to be able to successfully interpret another person’s emotions and emphasized the importance of being conscious of our moods when making judgements about others. Overall, this was very interesting to read!

  • Pomai Ogata // Feb 15th 2023 at 10:13 pm

    This was a really insightful blog post; thanks Wendy and Elle! It’s true, I definitely have experienced positivity hindering my ability to discern people’s real intentions, so it was fascinating to learn about the studies measuring those differences. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is something that feels like it’s been preached in a lot of areas of life, but based on the studies, perhaps being too positive and giving people the benefit of the doubt shouldn’t be as prominent of a mantra. Instead, we should be keeping an open mind to others while taking a step back to critically assess a person’s social cues.

    But even though we now know that positivity impacts our judgment, is there potential for reverse causality in these studies? For instance, if we were to be more skeptical/critical of social cues, would we be able to maintain our happier disposition or would the act of being more focused on specific attributes make our happiness fade? Also, there was a moment a few days ago when I was in a negative mood but experienced the opposite trend; instead of being more critical of a specific person’s social cues, I became more accepting of that person and my judgments thus became less stringent. So, I’m not entirely convinced that negativity in and of itself is causally linked to more skeptical analyses of social cues. Perhaps there are underlying factors to a person’s level of positivity/negativity that create variance in the results. Thus, I’d be curious to see if other studies look into factors that may be correlated to positivity/negativity to see what truly is driving our analyses of social cues and subsequent interactions.

  • Andrea Beltran // Feb 15th 2023 at 10:39 pm

    I think Elle and Wendy did a great job of summarizing Forgas’ studies and relating them to mentalization. I would agree with their final analysis that sadness will not necessarily lead to improved mentalization and social connection with others. I think one nuance in the analysis of these studies is that mentalization is not necessarily synonymous with empathy, which I could see being important in creating social connections.
    We see that sad people commit the FAE less, and are more skeptical of others. Thus, they seem to understand people’s true intentions more accurately, and the converse effects occur in happy people. However, I am curious if one could mediate these effects by increasing empathy, something that does not appear to be synonymous with mentalizing. From my understanding, empathy also examines another’s internal emotions, but rather than just trying to interpret what one’s internal state is, you additionally imagine what emulating that internal state must be like. This would seemingly help with social connection and interactions because it would allow one to sympathize appropriately, and arguably more importantly respond in a manner that makes the other person feel understood.
    In order to test this, perhaps the same experiment setup could be used from Forgas et al., (2008) but in addition to assessing videos of people lying or telling the truth, experimenters could ask participants to put themselves in their shoes and see if judgements are more accurate.

  • Ava Rauser // Feb 16th 2023 at 12:00 am

    What a grabbing read! While reading the post, I continuously found myself thinking “huh, I’m definitely guilty of that, aren’t I?” — making the article feel super relatable. I was especially hit by a comment towards the end from the Waltz and Epley paper— stating that feeling socially satiated can lead to the dehumanization of others. At first brush, the concept feels like it can’t possibly be true— when I’m happy, I’m more social and spend more time with friends, etc. But upon further inspection, that social time is often narrowly focused on my close inner circle of peers, and I don’t feel as much of a desire to find connections to strangers. If all of my best friends are at an event, I am most definitely not as motivated to strike up small talk with a stranger, than if I was attending the event alone. Being forced to acknowledge this truth is really enlightening to the positive bias we hold towards our close friends and the lack of empathy we might be showing strangers when they are in uncomfortable situations. As someone who really prides themself on always including everyone and following a “more the merrier” mantra, I feel like this paper is holding me accountable to be more inclusive to others, even when it might not be as great of a benefit to me. I also think it is a super interesting intersection to think about this concept in conjunction with the notion that being in a more pessimistic mood can provide clarity in social situations. Though optimistic moods may leave a temporary feeling of connection with others, it’s fascinating that pessimistic viewpoints may lead to more genuine relationships as the interaction is not as clouded. Overall, was a super interesting read — thank you Wendy and Elle!

  • Deposit pulsa tanpa potongan // Mar 4th 2023 at 10:15 am

    We noticed that people who are sad do less FAE and are more skeptical of others. In this way, they seem to understand people’s true intentions more accurately, and happy people experience the opposite effect. However, I was wondering if this effect might be mediated through increased empathy, which does not appear to be the same as mentalization. As I understand it, empathy also explores the inner emotions of others, but instead of just trying to interpret someone’s inner state, one also imagines what it would be like to emulate that state of mind. This appears to aid social bonding and interaction, as it allows a person to empathize appropriately and, perhaps more importantly, respond in a way that makes others feel understood.

  • Eliot // Mar 25th 2023 at 8:54 pm

    To be honest, I’ve been told that I could do with less skepticism, but I’ve also believed that my skepticism enriches my judgment by not letting anything get by me. Now, however, I wonder if my skepticism impedes my judgment. After thinking about it more, I’m starting to wonder if there might be two kinds of mentalization at play — one in which we approach other people with a specific facet of their identity that we are interested in (ie, to determine whether they are guilty of a crime) and one that is more exploratory (ie, what they are like as a person). These are fundamentally different ways to approach understanding someone but both definitely fall under the idea of mentalization.

Leave a Comment