The Representation of Emotion in Autonomic and Central Nervous System Activity
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Phenomenologically, humans effectively label and report feeling distinct emotions, yet the extent to which emotions are represented categorically in nervous system activity is controversial. Theoretical accounts differ in this regard, some positing distinct emotional experiences emerge from a dimensional representation (e.g., along axes of valence and arousal) whereas others propose emotions are natural categories, with dedicated neural bases and associated response profiles. This dissertation aims to empirically assess these theoretical accounts by examining how emotions are represented (either as disjoint categories or as points along continuous dimensions) in autonomic and central nervous system activity by integrating psychophysiological recording and functional neuroimaging with machine-learning based analytical methods. Results demonstrate that experientially, emotional events are well-characterized both along dimensional and categorical frameworks. Measures of central and peripheral responding discriminate among emotion categories, but are largely independent of valence and arousal. These findings suggest dimensional and categorical aspects of emotional experience are driven by separable neural substrates and demonstrate that emotional states can be objectively quantified on the basis of nervous system activity.
DepartmentPsychology and Neuroscience
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