“Eric Anderson and Erika Siegel from Northeastern University studied the influence of gossip on our vision with a simple experiment, which plays off a well-known conflict between our eyes. When each eye sees a different image (say, if they stare down different tubes), those images compete with one another for dominance. This is called “binocular rivalry”, and the brain acts as the arbitrator. It chooses to consciously experience one image and suppress the other. The result: even though your eyes sense both images, you only “see” one of them.
This lasts for a few seconds, before the images flip. The suppressed image becomes dominant, and the dominant one fades to view. These flips are largely out of our control, and you can work out which image is better at capturing the brain’s attention by looking at how long each one spends in the top spot.
Scientists have done this in study after study. We know that images win the rivalry if they are brighter, if they have sharper contrast, and if they are strongly emotive, such as scary faces or disgusting scenes. This time, Anderson and Siegel showed that faces are more likely to dominate if they’re shown along with negative statements, rather than positive or neutral ones.
The duo found that the faces stayed longer in the volunteers’ consciousness if they had been paired with negative gossip (4.9 seconds), compared to either positive or neutral gossip (4.3 seconds). They also outlasted new faces that the volunteers hadn’t seen before.”