Psychophysiology: Our Very Emotional Bodies

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In even the most cursory study of Psychology, most of us know we have internal responses to external events. We can feel afraid, sad, or happy based on our reactions to spiders, the death of a loved one, or the marriage of our children, respectively.

Theories about how we are likely wired to respond with particular emotions or reactions are what the theories are made of. Clinicians can infer an emotional response is connected to the respondent’s past family dynamics, for example.

Those who exhibit strong emotional responses where it is likely not provoked may have clinical biological issues, but pinning this down can take many roads.

Emotional responses are reported by those feeling them and are therefore subjective to the reporter. It simply is not possible to prove an emotion exists with any scientific evidence. That is, until the study of Psychophysiology.

Prove to Me You’re Scared

Those who study Psychophysiology focus on real evidence the body (namely, the nervous system) exhibits when experiencing an internal response. For example, those who are frightened will feel an escalation in heartbeat, cold sweat may appear from sweat glands, and they may feel lightheaded or dizzy.

These real, measurable bodily reactions can be monitored, shown on an EKG, and even scaled by severity. Those who experience the real terror of a life and death situation will immediately enter the “flight or fight” stage of panic, a reaction hardwired into our DNA for survival purposes.

A Psychophysiologist can measure the severity of the reaction with brain wave output, breathing, and pulse. Though of course, clinicians would not replicate a life or death scenario just to mark down biological responses.

What Makes Us Different

In an effort to understand the differences in our emotional responses to events or people, those who study Psychophysiology can look at how we each respond differently to a stimulus. For example, understanding how a person’s brain performs and ultimately sends its signals to the nervous system to respond can explain some universal behaviors.

Most people are nervous about things like public speaking, snakes, and hearing the phrase “we’re losing cabin pressure.” However, if someone experiences this relatively high degree of fear when crossing a bridge, we can surmise this person has somehow learned an inappropriate response. With that said, many people harbor the same type of fear when experiencing high places or plane flight.

By understanding the psychophysiology pattern of innate fear, clinicians can more understand how to treat and predict such responses. For example, those who have suffered neurological damage are studied in order to help pinpoint exactly where in the brain certain responses originate in order to assist in their recovery and therapy.

Possible Future Uses

Work has been done in the Neuroscience field which, by using software, can measure a user’s emotion by the detectable human responses typically found with some emotions and, in turn, uses the responses to navigate according to the user. For example, it is well known that a basic response to seeing something we like is the dilation of our pupils. The computer, equipped with appropriate reader and software, can measure the dilation of the pupil and navigate the user to additional information or sites which should elicit the same response. Conversely, frustration might be detected with increased muscle tension, signaling the computer to record the user’s unease at the particular activity, and to avoid similar ones. The study of Psychophysiology has led to many branches of the study of psychology and as with any study of human behavior, the uses and inferences are endless.

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