Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Emotional Reactions


  • Asmir Gračanin Odsjek za psihologiju, Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Rijeci


parasympathetic activity, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, Polyvagal theory, Model of neurovisceral integration, emotion


Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which is considered to reflect parasympathetic activity, has received an increased scientific interest during the last several decades. Research on RSA in psychophysiology was especially focused on its relationship with the emotional process and related individual differences. This contribution starts with a short description of parasympathetic nervous system function and its influences on heart activity. This is followed by the description of the Polyvagal Theory and the model of neurovisceral integration, which represent a broad framework for an understanding of the relations between parasympathetic activity, workings of the central nervous system functions, cognitive processes, and emotional reactions. After a brief explanation of the way the RSA is typically measured, a short overview of experimental research directed to RSA changes that accompany emotional reactions and correlational research of the relations between baseline measures of RSA and emotional traits is presented. This research shows that different hypotheses derived from the Polyvagal theory and the Model of neurovisceral integration are confirmed primarily in the context of vagal withdrawal and decreased vagal tone that are related to stress reactions, emotion of fear and trait anxiety, and to a lesser extent to trait hostility. The final section includes a brief discussion on the sources of inconsistency in the results of experimental research of relations between basic emotions and RSA changes, such as the neglected role of cognitive processes and somatic activity.