Autonomic Psychophysiology and Behavior
Dr. Archibald Hart, PhD, Senior Professor and Dean Emeritus, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Pasadena, California
Dr. Hart and his students have been studying psychophysiological indices of emotional states. Using measures of skin conductance, facial muscles responses (smile and frown reflexes), and heart rate, they are exploring a variety of emotional conditions that have clinical relevance. Several studies have explored the phenomenon of anhedonia in normal and depressed children with a view to establishing a psychophysiological tool for diagnosing childhood depression. This approach to evaluating emotional states is also being used collaboratively with Dr. Brown’s students in studies that explore the emotional consequences of congenital absence of the corpus callosum (called “Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum”).
Second, the Hart laboratory has been investigating variability in heart rate (also called “cardiac coherence”) in high stress states. The goal is to develop a psychophysiological tool for assessing stress non-invasively by measuring the push-pull of the sympathetic / parasympathetic systems. Several studies comparing panic anxiety disordered subjects with normal controls have already demonstrated the viability of this approach.
Finally, Hart’s lab has been testing the viability of using psychophysiological measures to assess levels of spirituality. Using measures of skin conductance and facial muscle responses to visual and auditory stimuli that have significant spiritual / religious content, it is anticipated that a measure of the intensity of spiritual experience will be possible. At this stage appropriate visual stimuli have been identified and normalized for a population of seminary students, and the next stage will be to assess these pictures in a non-religious population to determine their ability to discriminate persons who are and are not religious