EEG changes caused by spontaneous facial self-touch may represent emotion regulating processes and working memory maintenance

Brain Res. 2014 Apr 4;1557:111-26. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Feb 14.


Spontaneous facial self-touch gestures (sFSTG) are performed manifold every day by every human being, primarily in stressful situations. These movements are not usually designed to communicate and are frequently accomplished with little or no awareness. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether sFSTG are associated with specific changes in the electrical brain activity that might indicate an involvement of regulatory emotional processes and working memory. Fourteen subjects performed a delayed memory task of complex haptic stimuli. The stimuli had to be explored and then remembered for a retention interval of 5min. The retention interval was interrupted by unpleasant sounds from The International Affective Digitized Sounds and short sound-free periods. During the experiment a video stream of behavior, 19-channel EEG, and EMG (of forearm muscles) were recorded. Comparisons of the behavioral data and spectral power of different EEG frequency bands (theta, alpha, beta, and gamma) were conducted. An increase of sFSTG during the application of unpleasant sounds was observed. A significant increase of spectral theta and beta power was observed after exploration of the stimuli as well as after sFSTG in centro-parietal electrodes. The spectral theta power extremely decreased just before sFSTG during the retention interval. Contrary to this, no significant changes were detected in any of the frequencies when the spectral power before and after instructed facial self-touch movements (b-iFSTG and a-iFSTG) were compared. The changes of spectral theta power in the intervals before and after sFSTG in centro-parietal electrodes imply that sFSTG are associated with cortical regulatory processes in the domains of working memory and emotions.

Keywords: Emotions; Self-touch; Theta EEG; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beta Rhythm
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Forearm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rest / physiology
  • Theta Rhythm
  • Time Factors
  • Touch Perception
  • Video Recording