Notes on Navanit Arakeri’s Morning Faces Experience

My last post described how Navanit Arakeri found that looking at faces on his iPad in the morning improved his mood. Three things struck me about his experience.

1. Small faces worked (“much smaller than life-sized”). I found that life-size faces produced the biggest effect. I never studied the effect of face size in detail (trying many different sizes). I first experienced the effect after watching Jay Leno do his monologue on a 20-inch TV — much smaller than a life-size face. Obviously we recognize faces when they are much smaller than life-size. For example, we recognize faces in newspaper photos. And we recognize people at a wide range of distances, meaning that the retinal image of a face can vary greatly in size without preventing recognition. Both facts suggest that the size of the face may not matter a lot for this effect.

2. He watched right after he got up. There is surely a window of effectiveness — a time period outside of which the faces do nothing — but when? And how long? I don’t know. It surely depends on your exposure to sunlight, which is incredibly hard to measure. Navanit found a simple rule that worked (“watch right after you get up”). When I first experienced the effect I did the same thing that works for him — I watched TV a few minutes after I woke up.

3. He became less irritable (“much more emotionally resilient to irritants and bad news”). I noticed the same thing. A paradox of depression is that people become more irritable. Depression is a disease of passivity — you don’t want to do anything — but irritability is over-reaction. I’ve heard it claimed that depression may be caused by not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Okay, lack of a vital nutrient might cause people to have less energy, but why would it make them more irritable? Not obvious. The fact that the morning-faces effect includes this component is part of why I think it sheds light on what causes depression. Perhaps anything that raises your mood will make you less irritable but I can only say it didn’t feel that way — it felt like something special. Like everyone else I have my mood raised by ordinary events (e.g., good news, a joke) and these do not seem to produce a big increase in serenity.

7 Replies to “Notes on Navanit Arakeri’s Morning Faces Experience”

  1. What’s never been clear to me is how many faces are needed to have a favorable effect. Is watching one person performing a monologue for 30 minutes enough, or is a random sampling of faces flashed onto a screen for a few seconds apiece just as or more effective?

    Seth: One person is enough. Most of my research was done watching Booknotes on C-Span, which involves two persons.

  2. Does this technique apply mainly to single people? I am wondering if I could improve my mood if I took a good look at my husband’s face in the morning instead of rushing around.

    Seth: You need 15-30 minutes to get a noticeable difference. A few minutes, no.

  3. I now use a single 2:20 minutes video looped to play again and again on the iPad. When I first started I used a variety of different faces. For me there’s no difference between the two in terms of impact on mood. I save a lot of searching and tapping with the current method though.

  4. I’m convinced that irritability is a thing in itself. Serenity might also be a thing.

    For a while, I’d get irritable whenever I had a hot flash, and that seemed reasonable because I generally don’t like being overheated. Then I had some no irritability hot flashes, and I concluded that there were some PMS symptoms involved in some hot flashes, but not all of them. (Note: hot flashes vary tremendously, and not just by intensity.)

    It wouldn’t surprise me if some irritability is a nutritional issue. I’m pretty sure that not all depression has a large component of irritability.

  5. “There is surely a window of effectiveness — a time period outside of which the faces do nothing — but when? And how long? I don’t know. It surely depends on your exposure to sunlight, which is incredibly hard to measure.”

    Why are you sure there is a window. Why are you sure exposure to sunlight interacts with it?

    Seth: I varied the time I saw the faces. The time made a big difference. Later in the day, such as noon, they had no effect at all. The window must be open and shut by another clock and sunlight is the only plausible driver of such a clock.

  6. On a somewhat related note, this is a very interesting article on a therapist dealing with her own mid-life crisis. In a way it illustrates the value of personal science, due to the futility of seeking help from a professional who is likely to be unsuccessfully dealing with their own issues:

    Seth: yes, very interesting article and very good point about its relation to personal science.

  7. Seth, just wondering if you have any experience with meditation. This method of looking intently at faces reminds me of some meditation techniques (I have not tried them myself).

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