Using pupil size and heart rate to infer affective states during behavioral neurophysiology and neuropsychology experiments

Andrew R. Mitz, Ravi V. Chacko, Philip T. Putnam, Peter H. Rudebeck, Elisabeth A. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background Nonhuman primates (NHPs) are a valuable research model because of their behavioral, physiological and neuroanatomical similarities to humans. In the absence of language, autonomic activity can provide crucial information about cognitive and affective states during single-unit recording, inactivation and lesion studies. Methods standardized for use in humans are not easily adapted to NHPs and detailed guidance has been lacking. New method We provide guidance for monitoring heart rate and pupil size in the behavioral neurophysiology setting by addressing the methodological issues, pitfalls and solutions for NHP studies. The methods are based on comparative physiology to establish a rationale for each solution. We include examples from both electrophysiological and lesion studies. Results Single-unit recording, pupil responses and heart rate changes represent a range of decreasing temporal resolution, a characteristic that impacts experimental design and analysis. We demonstrate the unexpected result that autonomic measures acquired before and after amygdala lesions are comparable despite disruption of normal autonomic function. Comparison with existing methods Species and study design differences can render standard techniques used in human studies inappropriate for NHP studies. We show how to manage data from small groups typical of NHP studies, data from the short behavioral trials typical of neurophysiological studies, issues associated with longitudinal studies, and differences in anatomy and physiology. Conclusions Autonomic measurement to infer cognitive and affective states in NHP is neither off-the-shelf nor onerous. Familiarity with the issues and solutions will broaden the use of autonomic signals in NHP single unit and lesion studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Affective state
  • Arousal
  • Autonomic measurement
  • Behavioral neurophysiology
  • Cognitive state
  • Experimental design
  • Frequency domain analysis
  • Heart rate variability
  • Methods
  • Neuropsychology
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Pupil size
  • Pupillometry
  • Time domain analysis


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