Facial thermal variations: A new marker of emotional arousal
Functional infrared thermal imaging (fITI) is considered a promising method to measure emotional autonomic responses through facial cutaneous thermal variations. However, the facial thermal response to emotions still needs to be investigated within the framework of the dimensional approach to emotions. The main aim of this study was to assess how the facial thermal variations index the emotional arousal and valence dimensions of visual stimuli. Twenty-four participants were presented with three groups of standardized emotional pictures (unpleasant, neutral and pleasant) from the International Affective Picture System. Facial temperature was recorded at the nose tip, an important region of interest for facial thermal variations, and compared to electrodermal responses, a robust index of emotional arousal. Both types of responses were also compared to subjective ratings of pictures. An emotional arousal effect was found on the amplitude and latency of thermal responses and on the amplitude and frequency of electrodermal responses. The participants showed greater thermal and dermal responses to emotional than to neutral pictures with no difference between pleasant and unpleasant ones. Thermal responses correlated and the dermal ones tended to correlate with subjective ratings. Finally, in the emotional conditions compared to the neutral one, the frequency of simultaneous thermal and dermal responses increased while both thermal or dermal isolated responses decreased. Overall, this study brings convergent arguments to consider fITI as a promising method reflecting the arousal dimension of emotional stimulation and, consequently, as a credible alternative to the classical recording of electrodermal activity. The present research provides an original way to unveil autonomic implication in emotional processes and opens new perspectives to measure them in touchless conditions.