Keeping the Pace: The Effect of Slow-Paced Breathing on Error Monitoring

Author: Sven Hoffmann, Lea Teresa Jendreizik, Ulrich Ettinger, Sylvain Laborde
Conference/Journal: Int J Psychophysiol
Date published: 2019 Dec
Other: Volume ID: 146 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.10.001. , Word Count: 233

Detecting errors is crucial for adapting one's own actions. Moreover, behavior is often optimized by adapting to maladaptive actions, i.e. errors. In this regard, recent studies and models of error monitoring point to an involvement of emotional states in error monitoring. A psychophysiological correlate of the latter is the error negativity or error-related negativity (Ne/ERN), reflecting partly the functional implementation of anterior cingulate cortex functions. In the present study, we aimed to test whether neurophysiological aspects of error monitoring can be altered by a relaxation technique, i.e. slow-paced breathing. Slow-paced breathing has been shown to increase cardiac vagal activity. According to the neurovisceral integration model, cardiac vagal activity is thought to be a marker of the effectiveness of executive functions. We tested the effect of slow-paced breathing on error monitoring, i.e. the Ne/ERN and behavioral adaptation in a modified flanker task, a cognitive task during which performance depends on executive control. The Ne was increased following slow-paced breathing compared to a passive control condition. Furthermore, behavioral results indicate that response variability decreased in the slow-paced breathing condition whereas overall performance remained constant. We conclude that slow-paced breathing improves the ability to focus on the task at hand. Thus, the error monitoring system is being supported in keeping the pace, i.e. tracking responses.

Keywords: Anterior cingulate cortex; Cardiac vagal activity; Cognitive control; Error monitoring; Self-control; Slow-paced breathing.

PMID: 31669325