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Title: Psychophysiology  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Sleep, Psychology, Arthur J. Bachrach, Brain and Cognition, Sociophysiology
Collection: Neuropsychology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Psychophysiology (from Greek ψῡχή, psȳkhē, "breath, life, soul"; φύσις, physis, "nature, origin"; and -λογία, -logia) is the branch of psychology that is concerned with the physiological bases of psychological processes.[1] While psychophysiology was a general broad field of research in the 1960s and 1970s, it has now become quite specialized, and has branched into subspecializations. For example, social psychophysiology, cardiovascular psychophysiology, cognitive psychophysiology, and cognitive neuroscience.


  • Background 1
  • Commonly used measures 2
  • Uses of psychophysiology 3
  • Psychophysiological inference and physiological computer games 4
  • See also 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7


Some people have difficulty distinguishing a psychophysiologist from a physiological psychologist, two very different perspectives. Psychologists are interested in why we may fear spiders and physiologists may be interested in the input/output system of the amygdala. A psychophysiologist will attempt to link the two. Psychophysiologists generally study the psychological/physiological link in intact human subjects. While early psychophysiologists almost always examined the impact of psychological states on physiological system responses, since the 1970s, psychophysiologists also frequently study the impact of physiological states and systems on psychological states and processes. It is this perspective of studying the interface of mind and body that makes psychophysiologists most distinct.

Historically, most psychophysiologists tended to examine the physiological responses and autonomic nervous system. More recently, psychophysiologists have been equally, or potentially more, interested in the central nervous system, exploring cortical brain potentials such as the many types of event-related potentials (ERPs), brain waves, and utilizing advanced technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, PET, MEG, and other neuroimagery techniques.

Continuing the comparison between a psychophysiologist and a physiological psychologist, a psychophysiologist may look at how exposure to a stressful situation will produce a result in the cardiovascular system such as a change in heart rate (HR), vasodilation/vasoconstriction, myocardial contractility, or stroke volume. A physiological psychologist may look at how one cardiovascular event may influence another cardiovascular or endocrine event, or how activation of one neural brain structure exerts excitatory activity in another neural structure which then induces an inhibitory effect in some other system. Often, physiological psychologists examine the effects that they study in infrahuman subjects using surgical or invasive techniques and processes.

Psychophysiology is closely related to the field of Neuroscience and Social neuroscience, which primarily concerns itself with relationships between psychological events and brain responses. Psychophysiology is also related to the medical discipline known as psychosomatics.

While psychophysiology was a discipline off the mainstream of psychological and medical science prior to roughly the 1960 and 1970s, more recently, psychophysiology has found itself positioned at the intersection of psychological and medical science, and its popularity and importance have expanded commensurately with the realization of the inter-relatedness of mind and body.

Commonly used measures

Many measures are part of modern psychophysiology including measures of brain activity such as ERPs, brain waves (electroencephalography, EEG), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), measures of skin conductance (skin conductance response, SCR; galvanic skin response, GSR), cardiovascular measures (heart rate, HR; beats per minute, BPM; heart rate variability, HRV; vasomotor activity), muscle activity (electromyography, EMG), electrogastrogram (EGG) changes in pupil diameter with thought and emotion (pupillometry), eye movements, recorded via the electro-oculogram (EOG) and direction-of-gaze methods, and cardiodynamics, recorded via impedance cardiography .

Uses of psychophysiology

Psychophysiological measures are often used to study emotion and attention responses to stimuli, during exertion,and increasingly, to better understand cognitive processes. Physiological sensors have been used to detect emotions in schools[2] and intelligent tutoring systems.[3]

Psychophysiological inference and physiological computer games

Physiological computing represents a category of affective computing that incorporates real-time software adaption to the psychophysiological activity of the user. The main goal of this is to build a computer that responds to user emotion, cognition and motivation. The approach is to enable implicit and symmetrical human-computer communication by granting the software access to a representation of the user's psychological status.

There are several possible methods to represent the psychological state of the user (discussed in the affective computing page). The advantages of using psychophysiological indices are that their changes are continuous, measures are covert and implicit, and only available data source when the user interacts with the computer without any explicit communication or input device. These systems rely upon an assumption that the psychophysiological measure is an accurate one-to-one representation of a relevant psychological dimension such as mental effort, task engagement and frustration.

Physiological computing systems all contain an element that may be termed as an adaptive controller that may be used to represent the player. This adaptive controller represents the decision-making process underlying software adaptation. In their simplest form, adaptive controllers are expressed in Boolean statements. Adaptive controllers encompass not only the decision-making rules, but also the psychophysiological inference that is implicit in the quantification of those trigger points used to activate the rules. The representation of the player using an adaptive controller can become very complex and often only one-dimensional. The loop used to describe this process is known as the biocybernetic loop. The biocybernetic loop describes the closed loop system that receives psychophysiological data from the player, transforms that data into a computerized response, which then shapes the future psychophysiological response from the player. A positive control loop tends towards instability as player-software loop strives towards a higher standard of desirable performance. The physiological computer game may wish to incorporate both positive and negative loops into the adaptive controller.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Psychophysiology at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  2. ^ Arroyo, Ivon; Woolf, B and Cooper, D and Burleson, W and Muldner, K and Christopherson, R (2009). "Emotion Sensors Go To School". Artificial Intelligence in Education 1 (1): 18–37. 
  3. ^ Hussein, M.S; Hussain, M. S.; AlZoubi, O.; Calvo, R. A.; D'Mello, S. K. (2011). "Affect Detection from Multichannel Physiology during Learning Sessions with AutoTutor.". Artificial Intelligence in Education. Auckland, New Zealand: Springer, LNAI Vol 6738.: 131–138. 
  4. ^ Gruszynski, Mike; Stephen H Faircloug. "Psychophysiological Inference and Physiological Computer Games". 
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  • Greenland, K., Xenias, D., & Maio, G. (2012). Intergroup anxiety from the self and other: Evidence from self‐report, physiological effects, and real interactions. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(2), 150-163.
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A. Weissman, M. Aranovitch, S. Blazer, and E. Z. Zimmer (2009) Pediatrics 124, e921-e92

  • Effects of Low-Intensity Exercise Conditioning on Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, and Autonomic Modulation of Heart Rate in Men and Women with Hypertension.

L. P.T. Hua, C. A. Brown, S. J.M. Hains, M. Godwin, and J. L. Parlow (2009) Biol Res Nurs 11, 129-143

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External links

  • Society for Psychophysiological Research. The primary American professional organization of psychophysiological research.
  • British Society for Clinical Psychophysiology (BSCP) Clinical Psychophysiology
  • The International Society for the Advancement of Respiratory Psychophysiology (ISARP)
  • The Medipsych Institute Clinical Psychophysiology
  • Brain, Body and Bytes: Psychophysiological User Interaction CHI 2010 Workshop (10-15, April 2010)
  • BioHarness Heart Validation vs gold standard
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