The meaning of motor activity, emotion, temperament, mood, and laterality

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McKeen, Nancy A.
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Individuals exhibit unique differences in the amount of motor activity that they exhibit as they go about their daily activities (Eaton, 1994). Theoretically, motor activity is salient to the emotional and arousal mechanisms thought to underlie temperament (Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994; Strelau, 1993, 1994, 1996). To test the theory empirically, two studies were conducted. In Study 1, motor activity was assessed over a 24-hour period in 21 university students. Analysis of demographic and anthropometric variables showed that gender, limb length, and body size were not correlated with motor activity. Two objective measures of activity showed convergent validity, and both showed external validity with an Activity Diary. In Study 2, arousal, emotion, and mood correlates of motor activity were assessed in a sample of 84 university students. A factor analysis revealed a gender difference which showed that Negative Arousal was significantly negatively correlated with overall activity in females, but not in males. A second focus of the dissertation was to examine the emotional and arousal correlates of within-individual lateral differences in limb movement. Emotion is asymmetrically processed with the right cerebral hemisphere specialized for negative emotional valence, and the left for processing positive valence (Davidson, 1995; Heller, 1993). Arm movement, controlled by the contralateral hemisphere (Carlson, 1991), was hypothesized to correlate with emotion; specifically, a left-arm bias in movement would relate to positive emotion, and a right bias would relate to negative emotion. Correlations revealed a gender difference, showing that in males, but not in females, greater right-arm activity was associated with the Positive Arousal factor. Thus, emotional arousal is associated with daily activity, but may be expressed differently by males and females.