Coherence between subjective experience and physiology in emotion: Individual differences and implications for well-being


Emotion theorists have characterized emotions as involving coherent responding across various emotion response systems (e.g., covariation of subjective experience and physiology). Greater response system coherence has been theorized to promote well-being, yet very little research has tested this assumption. The current study examined whether individuals with greater coherence between physiology and subjective experience of emotion report greater well-being. We also examined factors that may predict the magnitude of coherence, such as emotion intensity, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression. Participants (N = 63) completed self-report measures of well-being, expressive suppression, and cognitive reappraisal. They then watched a series of emotionally evocative film clips designed to elicit positive and negative emotion. During the films, participants continuously rated their emotional experience using a rating dial, and their autonomic physiological responses were recorded. Time-lagged cross-correlations were used to calculate within-participant coherence between intensity of emotional experience (ranging from neutral to very negative or very positive) and physiology (composite of cardiac interbeat interval, skin conductance, ear pulse transit time, finger pulse transit time and amplitude, systolic and diastolic blood pressure). Results indicated that individuals with greater coherence reported greater well-being. Coherence was highest during the most emotionally intense film and among individuals who reported lower expressive suppression. However, coherence was not associated with reappraisal. These findings provide support for the idea that greater emotion coherence promotes well-being and also shed light on factors that are associated with the magnitude of coherence.