Moderate Vagal Withdrawal in 3.5-Year-Old Children is Associated with Optimal Performance on Executive Function Tasks

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Susan D. Calkins, Professor (Creator)
Esther M. Leerkes, Professor (Creator)
Stuart Marcovitch, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology (Creator)
Marion O'Brien, Professor, Director of Family Research Center and Associate Dean for Research (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Vagal tone (measured via respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA) and vagal withdrawal (measured by decreases in RSA) have been identified as physiological measures of self-regulation, but little is known how they may relate to the regulation of cognitive activity as measured through executive function (EF) tasks. We expected that baseline measures of vagal tone, thought to be an indicator of attention, would correlate with EF performance. We also predicted that vagal withdrawal would allow for the reorientation of attention that is needed to succeed on EF tasks, but too much withdrawal would be detrimental. RSA measured at baseline was indeed related to EF performance in 220 3.5-year-old children, and those who exhibited a moderate decrease in RSA during the EF tasks outperformed children whose RSA decreased by too little or too much. These findings implicate vagal tone withdrawal as a psychophysiological measure of higher cognitive processes, most likely substantiated through increases in the levels of focused attention.

Additional Information

Developmental Psychobiology, 52(6), 603-608
Language: English
Date: 2010
RSA, executive function, vagal withdrawal, self-regulation

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