An Investigation on Bilateral Asymmetry in Electrodermal Activity

Front Behav Neurosci. 2019 May 7:13:88. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00088. eCollection 2019.


The Multiple Arousal Theory (Picard et al., 2016) was proposed to explain retrospective observations of bilateral differences in electrodermal activities occurring in threat-related high-stake situations. The theory proposes different cortical and subcortical structures to be involved in the processing of various facets of emotional states. Systematic investigations of this effect are still scarce. This study tested the prediction of bilateral electrodermal effects in a controlled laboratory environment where electrodermal activity (EDA) was recorded bilaterally during normal activity and two stress-tasks in 25 healthy volunteers. A visual search stress task with a performance-related staircase algorithm was used, ensuring intersubjectively comparable stress levels across individuals. After completion of the task, a sense of ownership of an attractive price was created and loss aversion introduced to create a high-stake situation. Confirmation of the theory should satisfy the hypothesis of a bilateral difference in EDA between the dominant and non-dominant hand, which is larger during high-stake stressors than during low-stake stressors. The bilateral difference was quantified and compared statistically between the two stress-tasks, revealing no significant difference between them nor any significant difference between the stress tasks and the period of normal activity. Subgroup analysis of only the participants with maximum self-rating of their desire to win the price (n = 7) revealed neither any significant difference between the two tasks nor between the stress-tasks and the period of normal activity. Although the theory was not confirmed by this study, eight cases suggestive of bilateral difference within the recordings were identified and are presented. Because the study is limited in using one of several possible operationalizations of the phenomenon, it is not possible to draw a general conclusion on the theory. Nevertheless, the study might contribute to a better understanding and encourage systematic review and hypothesis development regarding this new theory. Possible explanations and suggestions for future pathways to systematically investigate the Multiple Arousal Theory are discussed.

Keywords: bilateral asymmetry; electrodermal activity; emotional arousal; skin conductance; sympathetic nervous system.