Feeling Good: Autonomic Nervous System Responding in Five Positive Emotions

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Abstract

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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