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Ongoing Research: (-2004)
The Psychophysiology Research Unit was established in 1970 by Jochen Fahrenberg and Michael Myrtek who received a 5 years grant by the Volkswagenwerk Stiftung. The basic aim was the development of concepts and methods for the evaluation of psychophysiological relationships which seemed to be obvious in certain personality traits, in activation processes (emotions, stress), and in certain cardiovascular diseases and psychosomatic syndromes.
This research program focussed, thus, on differential psychophysiology relating to theoretical concepts
The research methodology designed to assess individual differences and patters of activation, included multi-channel recordings, multivariate statistical analysis, and systematic replications in relatively large groups of subjects and patients. Much of the work was devoted to the development of appropriate laboratory tasks and paradigms, recording techniques (especially non-invasive methods in cardiovascular psychophysiology), computer-assisted experimentation, and software for adequate parametrization of a large range of non-invasive recording techniques. In this context, a range of psychological assessment methods and questionnaires was developed, including standard personality questionnaires based on samples representative for the German population.
The empirical findings and methodology of this research were published in several books and many articles. This multivariate differential psychophysiology approach made clear that some of the global theoretical concepts which, at that time, appeared to be basic in this research domain were not tenable on empirical grounds. A general conclusion was, that in contrast to common expectations which are still hold in parts of the literature and present day textbooks, many of these studies revealed small or negligible relationships between psychological variables and physiological (autonomic, endocrine, biochemical, motor) functions. In particular, there was growing evidence that self-report data had a negligible validity in predicting objectively measured autonomic reactivity. Instead, a more sophisticated, however, methodically more demanding strategy and a multivariate theory of activation is appropriate - "Differential psychophysiology: Persons in situations".
If, at the beginning, the search for convergent validity was a primary motive for this research on the psychophysiology of activation, the basic orientation has become different. Physiological recordings of autonomic changes provide a means to detect discrepancies (response fractionation and patterning) between regulatory systems in activation processes: subjective emotional states which are physiologically "quiet" and, on the other side, autonomic reactivity, for example, non-metabolic cardiovascular reactivity without conscious experience. This conclusion is in line with much published research about non-correlation of physical symptoms and subjective complaints.
Initiating from a first laboratory-field comparison (generalizability
study) concerning individual differences in activation processes,
since 1980 the ambulatory monitoring in everyday life became increasingly
important for the research.