Human brain EEG indices of emotions: delineating responses to affective vocalizations by measuring frontal theta event-related synchronization

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011 Oct;35(9):1959-70. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.05.001. Epub 2011 May 10.


At present there is no direct brain measure of basic emotional dynamics from the human brain. EEG provides non-invasive approaches for monitoring brain electrical activity to emotional stimuli. Event-related desynchronization/synchronization (ERD/ERS) analysis, based on power shifts in specific frequency bands, has some potential as a method for differentiating responses to basic emotions as measured during brief presentations of affective stimuli. Although there appears to be fairly consistent theta ERS in frontal regions of the brain during the earliest phases of processing affective auditory stimuli, the patterns do not readily distinguish between specific emotions. To date it has not been possible to consistently differentiate brain responses to emotion-specific affective states or stimuli, and some evidence to suggests the theta ERS more likely measures general arousal processes rather than yielding veridical indices of specific emotional states. Perhaps cortical EEG patterns will never be able to be used to distinguish discrete emotional states from the surface of the brain. The implications and limitations of such approaches for understanding human emotions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Algorithms
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Communication*
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Cortical Synchronization / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Young Adult