Investigating the relationship between emotional granularity and cardiorespiratory physiological activity in daily life

Author: Katie Hoemann1, Zulqarnain Khan2, Nada Kamona3, Jennifer Dy2, Lisa Feldman Barrett3,4,5, Karen S Quigley3,6
1 Department of Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA.
3 Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA.
4 Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
5 Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA, USA.
6 Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, Bedford, MA, USA.
Conference/Journal: Psychophysiology
Date published: 2021 Mar 25
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/psyp.13818. , Word Count: 257

Emotional granularity describes the ability to create emotional experiences that are precise and context-specific. Despite growing evidence of a link between emotional granularity and mental health, the physiological correlates of granularity have been under-investigated. This study explored the relationship between granularity and cardiorespiratory physiological activity in everyday life, with particular reference to the role of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an estimate of vagal influence on the heart often associated with positive mental and physical health outcomes. Participants completed a physiologically triggered experience-sampling protocol including ambulatory recording of electrocardiogram, impedance cardiogram, movement, and posture. At each prompt, participants generated emotion labels to describe their current experience. In an end-of-day survey, participants elaborated on each prompt by rating the intensity of their experience on a standard set of emotion adjectives. Consistent with our hypotheses, individuals with higher granularity exhibited a larger number of distinct patterns of physiological activity during seated rest, and more situationally precise patterns of activity during emotional events: granularity was positively correlated with the number of clusters of cardiorespiratory physiological activity discovered in seated rest data, as well as with the performance of classifiers trained on event-related changes in physiological activity. Granularity was also positively associated with RSA during seated rest periods, although this relationship did not reach significance in this sample. These findings are consistent with constructionist accounts of emotion that propose concepts as a key mechanism underlying individual differences in emotional experience, physiological regulation, and physical health.

Keywords: ECG; ambulatory assessment; emotion differentiation; experience sampling; heart rate variability; respiratory sinus arrhythmia.

PMID: 33768687 DOI: 10.1111/psyp.13818