Cardiac Vagal Tone and Emotion
Regulation
OCRF
Ellen Cohan ’10
Ebony Burton ‘11
Mentor: Nancy Darling
Oberlin College Psychology
Department
Outline
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Vagal Tone
Transitions in Adolescent Relations Project
My Research Question
Results
Vagal Tone
• The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It acts
as a bridge between the brain and the heart.
• Vagal tone is impulses sent by the vagus nerve to
inhibit heart beat.
• Vagal tone acts as a brake for the heart
• This brake is activated during expiration and
inhibited during inspiration.
Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia
• Definition: variability in heartbeat during
inspiration and expiration
• Measure: milliseconds between heartbeats
• High vagal tone: high variability in heart rate
• Low vagal tone: low variability in heart rate
Vagal Tone
• Two distinct measures:
– Baseline : RSA at rest
– Baseline-to-task : RSA variation from rest to
engaging task
• Social interaction
• Stressful activity
Implications of Vagal Tone
• High vagal tone
– Better equipped to handle stressful situations
• Low Vagal tone
– More likely to be controlled by physiology
Implications of Vagal Tone
• High Vagal Tone vs. Low Vagal Tone
– Infants
– Children
– Adults
• Emotional Regulation
• Fight vs. Flight
Transitions in Adolescent Relations Project
• Part of larger study conducted by Nancy Darling
• Places where research has been conducted
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Oberlin
Miami
New York
Pennsylvania
Italy
Philippines
Chile
Transitions in Adolescent Relations
Project
What we were measuring
• Parent-child conflict and communication
• Legitimacy of parental authority
• Emotion regulation
Methods: Recruitment
• Rising 5th, 6th and 7th graders
• From Langston Middle School
Website: http://www.oberlin.edu/faculty/ndarling/tarp/
Study Protocol
• Participant rights
– IRB, Confidentiality, etc.
• Self-report surveys
– i.e. rules, child’s behavior and mother’s parenting, conflict
management, depression scale, attachment style, etc.
Paper products
used for the study
Study Protocol
• Calming Music Task
• Video Recorded Tasks
– K’Nex Task
– Conflict Task
Study Protocol
• Video Recall
Study Protocol
• Objective Video Coding
– K’Nex Task (ie. enjoyment, control, help-providing,
use of help)
– Conflict Task (ie. warmth, help-seeking (child),
moralizing, seriousness, verbal aggression)
• Participant Rating Forms
Study Protocol
• Physiological Data:
– Salivary assays
• Protocol: 3 samples
• Salivary Alpha Amylase
• Cortisol
Study Protocol
• Physiological Data:
– Heart Rate Data
• Biolog setup
• Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA)
Biolog Setup:
Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia
• Definition: variability in heartbeat during
inspiration and expiration
• Measure: milliseconds between heartbeats
Ellen’s research question!
• Concordance:
– Is vagal tone passed down through the
parents?
– How similar is mother-adolescent vagal
tone:
• Baseline
• Task
• Baseline-to-task
Past research on vagal concordance
• “Child and Mother Cardiac Vagal Tone:
continuity, stability and concordance across
the first five years” by Marc H. Bornstein and
Patricia E. Suess
– Baseline RSA not concordant
– Baseline-to-task concordant for both 2-months
and 5-years
My Results
• Baseline RSA correlation: .21!
• Low, but positive
Ebony’s results –
which were cooler than mine
• High vagal tone in mother:
– No lecturing
– Warm child
• High vagal tone in a child:
– Neither one lectures
– Both are less verbally aggressive
• Moms and children with high vagal tone
– Less sensitive moms
Thank You
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OCRF office
Nancy Darling
My adoring audience
My mom
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Cardiac Vagal Tone and Emotion Regulation