Cardiac vagal control as a marker of emotion regulation in healthy adults: A review.

Author: Balzarotti S1, Biassoni F2, Colombo B3, Ciceri MR2
1Psychology Department, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123, Milan, Italy. Electronic address:
2Psychology Department, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123, Milan, Italy.
3Division of Education and Human Studies, Psychology Department, Champlain College, 251 South Willard Street Burlington, VT 05402, United States.
Conference/Journal: Biol Psychol.
Date published: 2017 Dec
Other: Volume ID: 130 , Pages: 54-66 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.10.008. Epub 2017 Oct 25. , Word Count: 202

In the last two decades, a growing body of theory and research has targeted the role of cardiac vagal control (CVC) in emotional responding. This research has either focused on resting CVC (also denoted as cardiac vagal tone) or phasic changes in CVC (also denoted as vagal reactivity) in response to affective stimuli. The present paper is aimed at reporting a review of the papers published between 1996 and 2016, and focused on the results of 135 papers examining cardiac vagal control as a physiological marker of emotion regulation in healthy adults. The review shows that studies have employed a wide array of methodologies and measures, often leading to conflicting results. High resting CVC has been associated with better down-regulation of negative affect, use of adaptive regulatory strategies, and more flexible emotional responding. Concerning phasic changes, research has consistently found decreased CVC in response to stress, while CVC increases have been shown to reflect either self-regulatory efforts or recovery from stress. Despite conflicting results, we conclude that existing literature supports the use of CVC as a noninvasive, objective marker of emotion regulation.

KEYWORDS: Cardiac vagal control; Cardiac vagal tone; Emotion regulation; Heart rate variability; Respiratory sinus arrhythmia; Vagal reactivity; Vagal recovery

PMID: 29079304 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.10.008