Gastric myoelectrical activity as an index of emotional arousal

Int J Psychophysiol. 2006 Jul;61(1):70-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2005.10.019. Epub 2006 Jan 3.


Autonomic nervous system parameters such as electrodermal activity, heart rate, and facial EMG have been utilized extensively as measures of emotional arousal. One measure that has rarely been employed in this setting is gastric myoelectrical activity, despite the fact that "gut feelings" have an obvious and even profound role in everyday emotional life. It has been shown that the gastrointestinal system changes wall tonus and contraction rate during stressful tasks. However, the effects of emotionally salient stimuli on gastrointestinal motility have scarcely been studied. In the current study, emotional film clips designed to elicit happiness, disgust, fear, sadness, or no emotion (neutral) were presented to 16 normal participants. Electrogastrogram (EGG), skin conductance, and heart rate were measured while the participants viewed the film clips, and participants rated subjective arousal intensity and pleasantness of the film clips. We found that emotional film clips reliably induced the intended subjective feeling states. Also, EGG peak amplitudes in fear, disgust, sadness and happiness were higher than in the no emotion condition. There was a strong positive correlation (r=0.64) between EGG peak amplitude and subjective ratings of arousal. This is the first evidence that gastric myoelectrical activity is strongly correlated with arousal ratings to emotionally salient stimuli, and it suggests that EGG may add useful information about how the body contributes to the phenomenology of emotion and feeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Electromyography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Tonus / physiology
  • Myoelectric Complex, Migrating / physiology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Stomach / innervation*
  • Visual Perception / physiology