Psychophysiological Specificity of Four Basic Emotions Through Autobiographical Recall and Videos

  • Alice ChiricoEmail author
  • Pietro Cipresso
  • Andrea Gaggioli
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes of the Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering book series (LNICST, volume 253)


Current theories of emotion generally agree that basic emotions involve several systems with a considerable degree of specificity at the psychophysiological level. Analyzing the psychophysiological profiles of emotions allowed to understand if individuals felt the target emotional states or if they perceived it into the emotional material. Here, we explored the sensitivity of autobiographical recall and videos in reproducing emotional psychophysiological specificity even in the lab. We recorded 40 participants’ psychophysiological profiles of anger, fear, joy, sadness elicited through videos and autobiographical recall, following a within subject design, in a counterbalanced order. We assessed the autonomic responding (i.e., heart rate) during each emotion induction (3 min length) using a ProComp Infinity 8-channel (Thought Technology Ltd, Montreal, Canada). The sampling rate was set at 256 Hz. We followed the guidelines of Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology, to extract typical temporal and spectral HRV measures and to evaluate the response of the autonomic nervous system. Specifically, we classified the rhythms as very low frequency (VLF, <0.04 Hz), and high frequency (HF, 0.15 to 0.4 Hz) oscillations. Results showed that emotions induced through autobiographical recall could be better differentiated than those elicited using videos. We found significant interaction effects of 4 emotions × 2 conditions (video vs. autobiographical recall) measuring both sympathetic (VLF) and parasympathetic activity (HF). Autobiographical recall could recreate a differential activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system for each emotion, which was mostly in line with existing literature. However, videos did not allow discriminating different emotional states clearly at the psychophysiological level. These findings suggested autobiographical recall as a more suitable technique to recreate basic emotions’ psychophysiological activation in the lab. Finally, these results offered some insights into the issue of whether emotions induced in the lab are perceived or really felt by participants.


Psychophysiology Patterning Basic emotions Videos Autobiographical recall Emotion specificity 


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Copyright information

© ICST Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alice Chirico
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pietro Cipresso
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrea Gaggioli
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversità Cattolica Del Sacro CuoreMilanItaly
  2. 2.Applied Technology for Neuropsychology LabIstituto Auxologico Italiano, IRCCSMilanItaly

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