Quantifying the dynamic nature of vagal responsivity in infancy: Methodological innovations and theoretical implications

Jennifer A. Somers, Sarah G. Curci, Linda J. Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

According to polyvagal theory, rapid modulation of the vagal brake develops early in infancy and supports social interactions. Despite being viewed as a dynamic system, researchers typically assess vagal regulation using global measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; an index of vagal tone). This study sought to capture the dynamic property of RSA and evaluate individual differences in within-infant RSA responsivity during mother–infant interaction. RSA was evaluated in a sample of 135 6-month-old Mexican-American infants during a 5-min free play task. Mothers reported on their children's behavioral problems and competence at 18 months using the Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment. Time-varying estimates of infant RSA during the interaction were obtained using a multiple window technique and spectrogram analysis. Using structural equation modeling, we evaluated whether within-infant SD of RSA predicted infants’ behavioral problems and competence at 18 months, after adjusting for infants’ mean RSA and covariates. Greater within-infant SD of RSA predicted more behavior problems at 18 months. This study demonstrates that assessing intra-individual variability in RSA, or the extent to which infants fluctuate around their average level of RSA during a task, enhances our ability to test polyvagal theory's central tenet: vagal regulation supports well-regulated social interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)582-588
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Volume63
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • infant
  • respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • vagal functioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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