Early Parasympathetic Activity Predicts Later Childhood Social Functioning as Mediated by Emotion Regulation
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Theories of emotion regulation and social engagement indicate that resting and reactive respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which reflect vagal activity, in early childhood can inform the development of social and emotional behaviors later in life. Low RSA at baseline and during a stressful task have been associated with symptoms of ED and disorders characterized by social impairments. The current study examined the mediating role of ED at 24-months-old (mo) on the prospective association between early infant resting and reactive RSA at 5 mo on social functioning outcomes at 48 mo, and the mediating role of social functioning at 24 mo on infant RSA at 5 mo and ED at 48 mo in 237 healthy children. It was hypothesized that ED would mediate the relationship between infant RSA and later childhood social function. Results largely indicated no support of the hypotheses and that there is no mediating effect of childhood ED on early RSA on later childhood social behavior; however, there was a significant relationship between infant resting and reactive RSA and later ED. Limitations and future directions for improving the methodology are addressed.
General Audience Abstract
Early childhood heart rate has been thought to influence the development of later child emotional and social development. The Polyvagal Theory suggests that low variability in heart rate, as measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), is related to greater difficulties in emotional and social behavior. Finding an underlying biological reason for emotional and social development can be important for understanding childhood psychological disorders. This research study examined healthy children at three different time points during development: 5 months old (mo), 24 mo, 48 mo. RSA was measured at 5 mo, and frustration levels and social abilities at 24 and 48 mo. It was hypothesized that low RSA at 5 mo predicts low social abilities at 48 mo because of high frustration levels at 24 mo. To rule out an alternate hypothesis, this study also tested if low RSA at 5 mo predicts high frustration levels at 48 mo because of low social abilities at 24 mo. The results of this study did not support the predictions and there was no evidence of emotional abilities affecting how RSA predicts later social abilities. Possible explanations for the lack of findings and ideas for future research were discussed.
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