Focusing on the forest versus the trees illustrates a fundamental difference in how people see the world and make meaning, termed global and local attention. How we shift between them may impact whether we experience happiness or anxiety. We explored how different emotions serve as triggers for shifting between global and local attention using film clips and measuring responses to computerized attention tasks. We found that negative film clips localized attention, while positive films globalized attention, concluding that emotions can impact whether we attend to the forest or the trees. However, different induction strategies and various studies have led to discrepant findings in supporting whether affect alone impacts the activation of global and local systems of attention. A potential alternative explanation comes from a more recent theory, GLOMOsys, which asserts that perceived novelty and familiarity of a stimulus are essential for signaling global vs. local precedence over emotional state (Forster & Dannenberg, 2010). The current study provided support for an integrated model, considering both variables of novelty and affect on global versus local processing that we termed The Survive or Thrive Hypothesis. As predicted we found that novel and threatening film clips led to a global level of processing; however, after one repetition (familiarity) there was a shift toward a local level of processing. Thereby, upon repetition and familiarity with the threatening stimulus, there was a shift to a more detail-oriented processing approach (F [3, 37] = 3.35, p < .05, η2 = .21). This trend demonstrated an interaction between cognitive appraisals of novelty, and specific affect states, in influencing global versus local systems of attention. Physiological measures of heart rate (HR) and skin conductance level (SCL) provided objective measures of emotional experiencing. Trends indicated that threatening film clips were associated with increased HR and SCL when compared to neutral and positive films clips. Further, HR and SCL were most elevated upon initial viewings (novelty) of the film clips. Physiological responding was impacted by both the emotional state as well as cognitive appraisals about the emotional stimulus. Our Survive or Thrive Hypothesis is based upon the integration of multiple theories, and would benefit from continued empirical replication. Future studies should explore different ways to induce novelty and familiarity, and possibly induce a broader spectrum of emotional valence categories. Continued exploration of the cognitive constructs of global versus local information processing can have implications for understanding how cognitive rigidity could be implicated in a range of mental disorders. Understanding the triggers and bounds for these different levels of information processing could be manipulated for clinical treatment purposes of a range of mental disorders.
School of Behavioral Health
Haerich, Paul E.
Hartman, Richard E.
Morrell, Holly E. R.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Perception; Emotions; Imagery (Psychology) Therapeutic use; Visualization -- Therapeutic use
Subject - Local
Global vs. Local Precedence; Cognitive Appraisals of Novelty; Negative Imagery; Positive Imagery; Systems of Attention; Novelty and Affect;
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Terzyan, Seda, "Survive or Thrive: Focusing on the Forest (Global) or the Trees (Local) Impacts Meaning Making" (2016). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 411.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives