Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia - Use in Research - Psychological Findings

Psychological Findings

Due to age differences in expression of RSA, the majority of vagal tone research as it relates to social behavior and human psychology has focused on children. Typically, researchers are concerned with baseline vagal tone, treating it either as a potential predictor of behavior or examining its relationship with mental health (particularly emotion). However, it is worth noting that individual suppression of vagal tone during a particularly challenging task (“vagal reactivity”) may be influenced by regulation of attention; some studies have found that vagal tone can predict a variety of different, sometimes even opposite, effects in youth. Studies have shown that children with high levels of vagal tone tend to exhibit greater psychophysiological health, higher mental and motor functioning, and more adaptive behavioral and social performance than those with lower vagal activity; these results hold true over a wide range of experimental contexts. Interestingly, there are implications that parental relationships have a significant effect on later expression of vagal tone, even surpassing the childhood years. Research indicates that children with more secure attachments with their mothers exhibited greater empathetic responsiveness, less social inhibition, and higher vagal tone, again highlighting the vagus nerve’s regulating effect on emotional and social functioning.

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