Specific respiratory patterns distinguish among human basic emotions

Int J Psychophysiol. 1991 Aug;11(2):141-54. doi: 10.1016/0167-8760(91)90006-j.


Prototypical respiratory-facial-postural actions ('emotional effector patterns') related to six basic emotions had been extracted from an ensemble of physiological reactions present in subjects reliving intense emotional situations (Bloch & Santibañez, 1972). Subjects reproducing these actions could evoke the corresponding subjective experience, which suggested their use as an experimental model for generating controlled emotional states. The aim of the present study was to quantify the respiratory parameters which characterize the emotions of joy-laughter, sadness-crying, fear-anxiety, anger, erotic love and tenderness. Respiratory movements and facial/postural expressions were recorded from 36 young actors who had learned in previous workshops to express these emotions by reproducing the corresponding prototypical actions. A qualitative analysis of the recordings showed that as the emotional reproduction went along, both breathing and expression evolved from an initial 'robot-like' phase to a more natural stage in which spontaneous vocalizations and gestures appeared. This suggested a partial activation of the emotional network. The quantitative analysis of the respiratory movements for the fundamental cycles showed that for anger, erotic love and tenderness significant changes in amplitude, rate and duration of the 'expiratory pause' were the major elements of differentiation, while for sadness, joy and fear inspiratory over expiratory time ratios were the elements of differentiation. These last three emotions were further characterized by small amplitude/high rate saccadic respiratory movements superposed to different phases of the fundamental cycles. It is concluded that quantitatively well differentiated sets of respiratory changes characterize each of six basic emotions. The bottom-up experimental model for generating such emotions based on the joint activation of the respiratory-facial-postural systems and its relation to corresponding 'real-life' emotions is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anger / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laughter
  • Love
  • Male
  • Posture
  • Respiration / physiology*
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology