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Autonmic Nervous System

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It has long been thought that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) plays a crucial role in controlling physiological changes when emotions are experienced. Little research has been completed on the autonomic responses which occur for positive emotions, such as love. Shioeta et al.(2011) aimed to explore this gap in knowledge by comparing and examining the effects of five positive emotions on the autonomic nervous system. The five positive emotions were enthusiasm/ excitement, love/ attachment, tenderness/ compassion, amusement and awe. Slides with emotion-eliciting images were shown to the participants, all of whom were undergraduate psychology students. Neutral slides were also shown to serve as a basis of comparison. Six peripheral measures of autonomic responding were evaluated, these were: Cardiac Interbeat Interval (CII), Cardiac Pre-Ejection Period (PEP), Skin Conductance Responses (SCR), Respiration Rate, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) and Mean Arterial Pressure. All six measures were collected during the slide viewing and at the end of each series of slides, the experimenter administered an emotional experience questionnaire. It was found that there were significant differences in autonomic nervous system responding with the different positive emotions. This suggests that greater attention needs to be given to understanding positive emotions.

Although dozens of studies have examined the autonomic nervous system (ANS) aspects of negative emotions, less is known about ANS responding in positive emotion. An evolutionary framework was used to define five positive emotions in terms of fitness-enhancing function, and to guide hypotheses regarding autonomic responding. In a repeated measures design, participants viewed sets of visual images eliciting these positive emotions (anticipatory enthusiasm, attachment love, nurturant love, amusement, and awe) plus an emotionally neutral state. Peripheral measures of sympathetic and vagal parasympathetic activation were assessed. Results indicated that the emotion conditions were characterized by qualitatively distinct profiles of autonomic activation, suggesting the existence of multiple, physiologically distinct positive emotions.



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