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
1REACH Institute, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, 900 S. McAllister, Psychology North, Rm 212, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA.
2Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, 250 Education Sciences Bldg, 56 East River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA.
3, Fraser, 3333 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55414, USA.
4Department 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