Where soul meets body - measuring emotion in infant brains

Emotion is arguably one of the key aspects of the human experience, but what is it at a physical level? My research attempts to gain insight into the nature of emotion by examining autonomic and central nervous system activity during emotional states in 4 to 6 month old infants. In this age group, certain cognitive faculties (i.e. language) and complex emotional behaviors (i.e. social attachment and expression repression) are not yet highly developed but positive and negative emotions are robustly expressed, providing an interesting opportunity to measure the electrophysiology of genuine, naturalistic emotions. Using a social interaction paradigm, wherein parents elicited emotional states from the infants, we found that heart rate and frontal brain activity differentiate between neutral, positive, and negative emotional states. Our results suggest that emotions induce large changes in both brain and peripheral activity, and that even brain activity alone differentiates between the most basic emotional states.

Elaina Bolinger
Elaina completed a B.Sc. in Biology at Jacobs University Bremen and a M.Sc. in Neural and Behavioural Sciences at the Max Planck International Research School in Tübingen. Her research uses electrical brain signals to address concepts like emotion, memory, sleep, and development in humans.