The Physiological Regulation of Emotion During Social Interactions: Vagal Flexibility Moderates the Effects of a Military Parenting Intervention on Father Involvement in a Randomized Trial.

Author: Zhang N1, Hoch J2,3, Gewirtz AH4
Affiliation: <sup>1</sup>REACH Institute, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, 900 S. McAllister, Psychology North, Rm 212, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA. <sup>2</sup>Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, 250 Education Sciences Bldg, 56 East River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA. <sup>3</sup>, Fraser, 3333 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55414, USA. <sup>4</sup>Department of Family Social Science and Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, 290 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave, St. Paul, MN, 55108, USA.
Conference/Journal: Prev Sci.
Date published: 2020 Apr 18
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1007/s11121-020-01122-6. [Epub ahead of print] , Word Count: 291

To make prevention programs more effective and understand "what works for whom," evidence regarding what individual characteristics predict intervention responsiveness is needed. Previous studies have evaluated a military parent training program known as After Deployment Adaptive Parenting Tools/ADAPT, yet less is understood about the program's varying effects for fathers. We tested the physiological regulation of emotion during social interactions as a moderator predicting fathers' responsiveness in a randomized trial of ADAPT, in which emotion regulation was operationally measured through vagal flexibility (VF; dynamic changes in cardiac vagal tone). Families with a child aged between 4 and 13 years for whom physiological data were gathered (n = 145) were randomly assigned to ADAPT (14-week face-to-face group intervention) or a control group (services as usual). Fathers in these families were National Guard/Reserve members who had been deployed to war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan and recently returned. Prior to the intervention, cardiac data was collected in-home throughout a set of family interaction tasks and VF was operationalized as the changes in high frequency (HF) power of heart rate variability (HRV) from a reading task to a problem-solving task. Parenting behaviors were observed and coded based on theory-driven indicators pre-intervention and at 1-year follow-up. Results of structural equation modeling showed that VF significantly moderated fathers' intervention responsiveness, such that fathers with higher vs. lower VF exhibited more effective parenting at 1-year follow-up if they were randomized into ADAPT vs. the control group. This study is the first to demonstrate that parasympathetic vagal functioning may be a biomarker to predict response to a military parenting intervention to enhance parenting in combat deployed fathers. The implications for precision-based prevention are discussed.

KEYWORDS: Fathers; Heart rate variability; Military families; Parenting intervention; Vagal tone

PMID: 32303894 DOI: 10.1007/s11121-020-01122-6