Published:  2004-01-01

Autonomic specificity of discrete emotion and dimensions of affective space: a multivariate approach

Authors:  Israel C Christie, Bruce H Friedman

Tags:  Autonomic nervous system, Electrocardiogram, Emotions

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The present study addressed autonomic nervous system (ANS) patterning during experimentally manipulated emotion. Film clips previously shown to induce amusement, anger, contentment, disgust, fear and sadness, in addition to a neutral control film, were presented to 34 college-aged subjects while skin conductance, blood pressure and the electrocardiogram (ECG) were recorded, as was self-reported affect. Both mean of and mean successive difference of heart period were derived from the ECG. Pattern classification analyses revealed emotion-specific autonomic patterning for all emotion conditions except disgust; all emotion conditions exhibited significant patterning using self-report. Discriminant function analysis was used to describe the location of discrete emotions within dimensional affective space using both self-report and ANS variables. Findings suggest that the dimensions of valence and activation portray the structure of self-reported emotion, but that valence is more accurately described as approach–withdrawal when applied to autonomic responses during discrete emotions. The findings provide further support for the existence of emotion-specific ANS activity, and are consistent with a hybrid discrete–dimensional model of affective space.