PSYC 2740 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Reticular Formation, Sympathetic Nervous System, Autonomic Nervous System

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Published on 14 Apr 2013
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Lecture 7 Physiological Approaches to Personality
Researches focus on distinct physiological systems such as heat rate or brain waves; the typical research
question posed by contemporary psychologists concerns whether some people will exhibit more or less of a
specific physiological response than others under certain conditions; ex. Are shy people more likely to show
high levels of anxiety?
Theoretical Bridge
Requires specific conditions (audience) under which a specific personality characteristic (shyness) will produce
a physiological indicator (heart rate.)
Audience + Shyness anxiety behaviour
HR increase
Physiological Measures Commonly Used in Personality Research
Electrodes: most common of measures; senors placed on surface of skin; drawback participant is wired to
recording machine (polygraph) so movement is constrained.
Telemetry: electric signals are sent from the participant to the polygraph through radio waves instead of
wires; being used on astronauts.
ELECTRO DERMAL ACTIVITY
Sympathetic nervous system: branch of the autonomic nervous system that prepares body for action (flight or
fight); sweat glands on palms of hands or feet are controlled by this.
Before the sweat is visible, it can be detected through electricity, since water conducts electricity; skin
conductance allows researchers to monitor sympathetic nervous system activity.
Can be elicited by all sorts of stimuli: sudden noises, emotional pictures with charged content, conditioned
stimuli, mental lie detector test; some people show skin conductance with no stimulants present; a person
who is rated high in anxiety is likely to have a nervous system that is in a state of chronic activation.
SELF INJURY STUDY
Emotional Reactivity: intensity and persistence of emotion in response to stimuli; thought to be elevated
among those who self-injure, particularly those with negative events/stressful tasks; included stress in 2
groups and measured skin conductance.
Group 1: Individuals w/history of self-injury Group 2: Individuals w/o history of self-injury
Stress induction: matching game in which failure feedback is given even when a response is correct.
Goal: determine how long people stay in the game and tolerate the distress of negative feedback.
Findings: individuals with history of self-injury have elevated skin conductance and more negative emotional
reactivity to stress; individuals who self-injure quit the game sooner which may indicate lower distress
tolerance.
Implication: emotional reactivity and distress tolerance may be key to understanding self-injury.
CARDIOVASCULAR ACTIVITY
Cardio vascular system involves the heart and blood vessels; measured by blood pressure and heart rate.
Blood pressure: pressure exerted by blood inside the artery walls; it is responsive to a number of conditions
espeicially stress; expressed with 2 numbers:
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Systolic larger number, referring to the maximum pressure within the system produced when the heart
muscle contracts.
Diastolic smaller number; refers to the resting pressure inside the system between heart contractions
Heart rate: beats per minute (bpm); can be measured by measuring time interval between successive beats, if
each interval is only one second, then heart rate is 60 bpm; as heart rate is increasing, it indicates the body is
preparing for action; good indicator of stress/anxiety, cognitive effort.
Cardiac reactivity: increase in blood pressure and heart rate in times of stress; associated with people who are
Type A Personality (impatient, competitive, hostile); evidence suggests that chronic cardiac reactivity
contributes to coronary artery disease and heartattacks which may be why type A personality trait is
associated with a higher likelihood of heart disease and heart attacks.
BRAIN ACTIVITY
Electroencephalogram (EEG): the brain produces small amounts of electricity which can be measured by
placing electrodes on the scalp; recordings can be obtained for various regions of the brain while the person is
asleep, relaxed or doing a task; interested in finding whether different regions of the brain show activity for
different people (introverts/extroverts).
Evoked potential technique: EEG is measured but participant is given a stimulant and the researcher assesses
the p’s brain.
Non-invasive techniques for mapping the structure and function of the brain - PET: Positron emission
tomography fMRI: functional magnetic resonance imaging; shows which portions of the brain are active while
a person is performing a certain task. Ex. High activity in control group, low in psychopath group, while looking
at violent images.
Neuroticism is correlated with increased frontal brain activation to negative images; Extraversion is correlated
with increased frontal brain activation to positive images.
Electrodermal sweat gland activity controlled by sympathetic nervous system anxiety, guilt, effort, pain noise, emotional
stimuli
Cardiovascular blood pressure, heart rate controlled by autonomic nervous system fight or flight response, mental effort,
stress stress, social anxiety, effort
EEG Brain’s electrical activity alertness, brain activation resting with eyes closed, reading.
Evoked EEG electrical activity in response to stimuli attention, recognition brief sensory stimuli, emotional stimuli
Neuroimaging (fmri, pet) brain’s energy metabolism specific areas responsible for cognitive control, emotion, memory, pain
tasks that activate response systems.
Other measures: antibodies (immune system), testosterone (hormone system, steroid), cortisol (hormone system, adrenal),
serotonin, dopamine, MAO etc (neurotransmitters).
Physiological Personality Theories and Related Research/Clinical Findings
BIOLOGICAL THEORIES
EYSENCK’S ORIGINAL THEORY
ARAS: ascending reticular activating system; structure in brain system thought to control overall cortical
arousal; those who are introverts are characterized by high levels of activity in the ARAS; ARAS was thought of
as a gateway.
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Document Summary

Requires specific conditions (audience) under which a specific personality characteristic (shyness) will produce a physiological indicator (heart rate. ) Electrodes: most common of measures; senors placed on surface of skin; drawback participant is wired to recording machine (polygraph) so movement is constrained. Telemetry: electric signals are sent from the participant to the polygraph through radio waves instead of wires; being used on astronauts. Sympathetic nervous system: branch of the autonomic nervous system that prepares body for action (flight or fight); sweat glands on palms of hands or feet are controlled by this. Before the sweat is visible, it can be detected through electricity, since water conducts electricity; skin conductance allows researchers to monitor sympathetic nervous system activity. Emotional reactivity: intensity and persistence of emotion in response to stimuli; thought to be elevated among those who self-injure, particularly those with negative events/stressful tasks; included stress in 2 groups and measured skin conductance.

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