Emotional and physiological responses to false feedback

Academic Article


  • The relationship between autonomic-visceral arousal and emotional experience is unclear. The attribution or cognitive-arousal theory of emotional experience posits that emotional experience is dependent on both visceral-autonomic nervous system feedback and the cognitive interpretation of the stimulus that induced this visceral activation. The finding that false cardiac feedback can alter emotional experience suggests that it may be the conscious perception that one is aroused, together with the cognitive interpretation of the stimulus that are important in developing emotional experience. Because the right hemisphere appears to play a special role in modulating arousal and interpreting emotional stimuli, it is possible that right hemisphere damage may interfere with developing the computations needed for emotional experience. To test this hypothesis we exposed men, both neurologically intact and those with right and left hemisphere lesions, to emotionally provocative pictures that were paired with false cardiac feedback, and examined the effects of this false feedback on their ratings of attractiveness of these pictures and their cardiac reactivity to this information. Subjects with left hemisphere damage, but not right hemisphere damage, showed significant changes in their emotional rating whereas control subjects showed marginal reactivity in their emotional ratings. Subjects with left hemisphere damage also showed significant changes in their cardiac reactivity. This finding is consistent with prior reports that indicate, when compared to right hemisphere damaged patients and normal controls, patients with left hemisphere lesions have an increased visceral-autonomic response to stimuli. These findings further provide support for the postulate that it is the cognitive interpretation of perceived physiological arousal together with the cognitive interpretation of the stimulus that is important in the development of emotional judgment and experience. These results do not support the approach-left hemisphere/avoidance-right hemisphere dichotomy, but instead suggest that left hemisphere damage increases reactivity to false feedback, and that the intact right hemisphere function integrates the cognitive interpretation of the emotional information and perceived arousal that lead to that emotional judgment. That these subjects showed no consistent relationship between their measures of cardiac reactivity and their ratings of attractiveness detracts from the James-Lange and attribution theories. These subjects also showed no consistent relationship between their knowledge of affective physiological reactivity and their ratings of attractiveness, or between their knowledge of physiological reactivity and actual measures of cardiac reactivity, suggesting that other neuropsychological factors are involved in making an emotional judgment. © 2000 Elsevier Masson Srl.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Cortex  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Crucian GP; Hughes JD; Barrett AM; Williamson DJG; Bauer RM; Bowers D; Heilman KM
  • Start Page

  • 623
  • End Page

  • 647
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 5