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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] What used to be known as cognitive psychophysiology until the mid 1990's is currently called Cognitive neuroscience.

For example, 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. He/She might, for example, try to explain arachnophobia in terms of impulses coming in and out of the amygdala. However, psychophysiologists almost always 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 study the impact of physiological states and systems on psychological states. It is this perspective of studying the interface of mind and body that makes psychophysiologists most distinct.

Psychophysiology is different from physiological psychology in that psychophysiology looks at the way psychological activities produce physiological responses, while physiological psychology looks at the physiological mechanisms which lead to psychological activity. Historically, most psychophysiologists tended to examine the physiological responses and organ systems innervated by the 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, functional neuroimaging (fMRI), PET, MEG, etc.

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), changes in pupil diameter with thought and emotion (pupillometry) and eye movements, recorded via the electro-oculogram (EOG) and direction-of-gaze methods.

Uses of psychophysiology

Psychophysiological measures are often used to study emotion and attention responses in response to stimuli. Loud startle tones, emotionally charged pictures, videos, and tasks are presented and psychophysiological measures are used to examine responses.

Different measuring devices have been used to make these measures. Typically simple systems such as the Polar heart belt have been used for Heart rate and R to R measures in the lab. However movement and posture (laying or standing)make these measurements confused with metabollic loading and changes in orthostatic pressure within the body. New devices are available which measure activity and posture using solid state MEMS technology so that periods of activity can be tracked over time and hence allow the physiology parameters to be used in a valid way.One such device is the BioHArness which uses a fabric belt with attached electrnic pod, this device measures heart rate, R to R, respiration rate, skin temperature, activity adn posture. The device either logs or transmits to a PC.

The use of R to R, or beat to beat, frequency analysis allows reserachers to track the differences in vagal tones and hence determine the level of relaxaion verses stress. For example when a person is concentrating on swinging a golf club or answeering a difficult question. Once the person is trained in the type of activity or subject matter they are more relaxed, which is meaured via the vagal tones an frequency spectrum of the beat to beat interval.



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