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Considerable evidence exists to support an association between psychological states and immune function. However, the mechanisms by which such states are instantiated in the brain and influence the immune system are poorly understood. The present study investigated relations among physiological measures of affective style, psychological well being, and immune function. Negative and positive affect were elicited by using an autobiographical writing task. Electroencephalography and affect-modulated eye-blink startle were used to measure trait and state negative affect. Participants were vaccinated for influenza, and antibody titers after the vaccine were assayed to provide an in vivo measure of immune function. Higher levels of right-prefrontal electroencephalographic activation and greater magnitude of the startle reflex reliably predicted poorer immune response. These data support the hypothesis that individuals characterized by a more negative affective style mount a weaker immune response and therefore may be at greater risk for illness than those with a more positive affective style.
We investigated the reliability and validity of a video-based method of measuring the magnitude of children's emotion-modulated startle response when electromyographic (EMG) measurement is not feasible. Thirty-one children between the ages of 4 and 7 years were videotaped while watching short video clips designed to elicit happiness or fear. Embedded in the audio track of the video clips were acoustic startle probes. A coding system was developed to quantify from the video record the strength of the eye-blink startle response to the probes. EMG measurement of the eye blink was obtained simultaneously. Intercoder reliability for the video coding was high (Cohen's kappa = .90). The average within-subjects probe-by-probe correlation between the EMG- and video-based methods was .84. Group-level correlations between the methods were also strong, and there was some evidence of emotion modulation of the startle response with both the EMG- and the video-derived data. Although the video method cannot be used to assess the latency, probability, or duration of startle blinks, the findings indicate that it can serve as a valid proxy of EMG in the assessment of the magnitude of emotion-modulated startle in studies of children conducted outside of a laboratory setting, where traditional psychophysiological methods are not feasible.
Despite the vast literature that has implicated asymmetric activation of the prefrontal cortex in approach-withdrawal motivation and emotion, no published reports have directly explored the neural correlates of well-being. Eighty-four right-handed adults (ages 57-60) completed self-report measures of eudaimonic well-being, hedonic well-being, and positive affect prior to resting electroencephalography. As hypothesized, greater left than right superior frontal activation was associated with higher levels of both forms of well-being. Hemisphere-specific analyses documented the importance of goal-directed approach tendencies beyond those captured by approach-related positive affect for eudaimonic but not for hedonic well-being. Appropriately engaging sources of appetitive motivation, characteristic of higher left than right baseline levels of prefrontal activation, may encourage the experience of well-being.
Although several studies have examined anterior asymmetric brain electrical activity and cortisol in infants, children, and adults, the direct association between asymmetry and cortisol has not systematically been reported. In nonhuman primates, greater relative right anterior activation has been associated with higher cortisol levels. The current study examines the relation between frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry and cortisol (basal and reactive) and withdrawal-related behaviors (fear and sadness) in 6-month-old infants. As predicted, the authors found that higher basal and reactive cortisol levels were associated with extreme right EEG asymmetry. EEG during the withdrawal-negative affect task was associated with fear and sadness behaviors. Results are interpreted in the context of the previous primate work, and some putative mechanisms are discussed.