Combining electroencephalographic activity and instantaneous heart rate for assessing brain-heart dynamics during visual emotional elicitation in healthy subjects

Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2016 May 13;374(2067):20150176. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2015.0176.


Emotion perception, occurring in brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, involves autonomic responses affecting cardiovascular dynamics. However, how such brain-heart dynamics is further modulated by emotional valence (pleasantness/unpleasantness), also considering different arousing levels (the intensity of the emotional stimuli), is still unknown. To this extent, we combined electroencephalographic (EEG) dynamics and instantaneous heart rate estimates to study emotional processing in healthy subjects. Twenty-two healthy volunteers were elicited through affective pictures gathered from the International Affective Picture System. The experimental protocol foresaw 110 pictures, each of which lasted 10 s, associated to 25 different combinations of arousal and valence levels, including neutral elicitations. EEG data were processed using short-time Fourier transforms to obtain time-varying maps of cortical activation, whereas the associated instantaneous cardiovascular dynamics was estimated in the time and frequency domains through inhomogeneous point-process models. Brain-heart linear and nonlinear coupling was estimated through the maximal information coefficient (MIC). Considering EEG oscillations in theθband (4-8 Hz), MIC highlighted significant arousal-dependent changes between positive and negative stimuli, especially occurring at intermediate arousing levels through the prefrontal cortex interplay. Moreover, high arousing elicitations seem to mitigate changes in brain-heart dynamics in response to pleasant/unpleasant visual elicitation.

Keywords: International Affective Picture System; brain–heart dynamics; electroencephalographic; emotions; heart rate variability; maximal information coefficient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Heart Rate / physiology*