Prolonged physiological reactivity and loss: Association of pupillary reactivity with negative thinking and feelings

Greg J. Siegle, Wendy D'Andrea, Neil Jones, Michael N. Hallquist, Stephanie D. Stepp, Andrea Fortunato, Jennifer Q. Morse, Paul A. Pilkonis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Prolonged psychophysiological reactions to negative information have long been associated with negative thinking and feeling. This association is operationalized in the RDoC negative affect construct of loss, which is nominally indexed by prolonged physiological reactivity, cognitive loss-related constructs such as rumination and guilt, and more feeling-related constructs such as sadness, crying, and anhedonia. These associations have not been tested explicitly. If thinking and feeling aspects of loss reflect different physiological mechanisms, as might be suggested by their putative neurobiology, different intervention pathways might be suggested. Here we examined the extent to which self-reported negative thinking and feeling constructs were associated with prolonged pupillary reactivity following negative words and a subsequent cognitive distractor in a diverse heterogeneously diagnosed sample of N = 84 participants. We also considered indices of abuse and variables associated with borderline personality disorder as possible moderators. Consistently, feeling-related negative affect constructs were related to prolonged pupillary reactivity during the distractor after a negative stimulus whereas thinking-related constructs were not. These data suggest that people who have sustained physiological reactions to emotional stimuli may be more strongly characterized by non-linguistic negative feelings than explicit cognitions related to loss. Sustained physiological reactions could reflect efforts to regulate feeling states. In contrast to cognitive and affective variables, abuse was associated with decreased physiological reactivity, consistent with decreased neural engagement. Interventions that target mechanisms underlying feelings and their regulation may be more mechanistically specific to sustained reactivity than those which directly address cognitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-320
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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