More than meets the heart: systolic amplification of different emotional faces is task dependent

Mateo Leganes-Fonteneau, Jennifer F Buckman, Keisuke Suzuki, Anthony Pawlak, Marsha E Bates
Cognition & Emotion 2020 October 19, : 1-9
Interoceptive processes emanating from baroreceptor signals support emotional functioning. Previous research suggests a unique link to fear: fearful faces, presented in synchrony with systolic baroreceptor firing draw more attention and are rated as more intense than those presented at diastole. This study examines whether this effect is unique to fearful faces or can be observed in other emotional faces. Participants ( n  = 71) completed an emotional visual search task (VST) in which fearful, happy, disgust and sad faces were presented during systolic and diastolic phases of the cardiac cycle. Visual search accuracy and emotion detection accuracy and latency were recorded, followed by a subjective intensity task. A series of interactions between emotion and cardiac phase were observed. Visual search accuracy for happy and disgust faces was greater at systole than diastole; the opposite was found for fearful faces. Fearful and happy faces were perceived as more intense at systole. Previous research proposed that cardiac signalling has specific effects on the attention and intensity ratings for fearful faces. Results from the present tasks suggest these effects are more generalised and raise the possibility that interoceptive signals amplify emotional superiority effects dependent on the task employed.

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