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

Int J Psychophysiol. 2004 Jan;51(2):143-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2003.08.002.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electrocardiography / methods
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures / instrumentation
  • Multivariate Analysis*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Surveys and Questionnaires