Emotional Coherence between Facial Expressions and Heart Rate is Associated with Well-Being Open Access

Affective science has long been interested in the coherence between different emotion response systems (e.g., subjective emotional experience, behavior, physiology). Although evolutionary functionalist accounts of emotion hold that emotional coherence should be related to greater adaptation, few studies have analyzed links between emotional coherence and well­being. Thus, in this laboratory-based study, we examined the link between emotional coherence (specifically the coherence between behavior and physiology) and dispositional well­being in a sample of 41 adults (22 females). During the study, participants’ heart rate (physiology) and facial expressions (behavior) were collected while watching a sad film clip where a woman discovers that her family has been killed in a car accident. Sad facial expressions were objectively coded using Emotion Expressive Behavior coding on a second­-by­second basis, while heart rate was calculated based on R­R intervals and converted into second-­by­-second data. Dispositional wellbeing was measured using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and the Big Five Inventory. Participants’ heart rate tended to decrease while they watched the sad film clip; thus, emotional coherence was indicated by a negative link between sad facial expressions and heart rate. Statistical analyses revealed that greater emotional coherence was associated with lower negative affect, lower neuroticism, and greater extraversion. Follow­up analyses showed that emotional coherence was not significantly associated with gender. In sum, our findings show that greater emotional coherence between facial expressions and heart rate in response to a sad film is associated with greater dispositional well­being, supporting a central tenet of evolutionary functionalist accounts of emotion.

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Last modified: 04/20/2018

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