Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


Based on Fowles' 1980 explanation for the fractionation of the autonomic cardiac and electrodermal measures, this thesis explores the patterns of heart rate (HR) and skin conductance level (SCL) activity accompanying positive and negative emotion. A second aim of this thesis is to explore the psychophysiological changes experienced during challenging adventure activities, and whether these changes reflect changes in state anxiety and self esteem.

A preliminary study carried out on the Ropes Course, an Outdoor Education adventure activity, indicated that participants experienced strong emotional and physiological changes during this activity. Dissociation of HR and blood pressure measures was found in this Study, with only systolic blood pressure reflecting group changes in state anxiety. In the main field studies, children aged 10-12 years participating on a Ropes Course activity were monitored "in situ" for HR and SCL changes using an ambulatory monitor with laboratory levels of precision. Fractionation of the HR and SCL measures was confirmed in the second study, with different HR and SCL response patterns found across the Ropes Course element epochs. In contrast to predictions based on Fowles' (1980) hypothesis, analyses of the physiological and emotion data in Study 3 found that the average HR and SCL levels recorded on the six elements of the Ropes Course differentially reflected levels of negative and positive emotion (respectively). These findings were confirmed in Study 5 after consideration of motility (movement) effects on the HR and SCL measures. Further studies using the Ropes Course activity indicated that increases in self esteem were associated with either higher SCL or lower HR levels during some of the more challenging elements of the Ropes Course. These data imply a relationship between self esteem and the experience of emotion during the successful completion of challenging adventure activities.

In the laboratory, adult students participated in 10 one minute imagery sessions that were used to evoke positive and negative emotions of various intensity. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark and Tellegen, 1988) confirmed that students experienced emotions that were significantly different from a baseline state. The NA and PA scores were used to plot each imagery session on the experimental "affective space". Analyses of the physiological data in both laboratory studies supported the association of HR with negative emotion. The SCL measure was found to be not as responsive under imagery conditions, although greater sensitivity in this measure was found for positive emotion. In the second laboratory study, the PA and NA scores were also used to calculate an arousal, valence and emotion intensity score for each imagery session. Exploratory regression analyses indicated that HR reflected both emotion intensity and arousal emotion characteristics.

The field and laboratory studies described in this thesis support linkages of HR with negative emotion and SCL with positive emotion contradicting Fowles' hypothesis. Together, these studies present a unique and more theoretical approach to the study of emotion. In addition, the field studies illustrate the benefits of psychophysiological research in Outdoor Education and the value of "in situ" monitoring.

02Whole.pdf (8878 kB)



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.