A pinboard by
Kristen Rudd

Graduate Student Teaching Assistant, University of California, Riverside


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is comprised of parasympathetic and sympathetic branches, which serve to control core adaptive systems, including cardiac regulation across periods of rest, reactivity, and recovery (Porges, 2007). Despite their heavily intertwined functions, literature examining the interactions among these systems is limited and often restricted to reactivity measures. However, the ability to effectively recover from stress may have large implications for children's positive adjustment across multiple domains. This study examined the main and interactive effects of 6-year-olds’ capacity for ANS recovery in both parasympathetic (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]) and sympathetic (i.e., pre-ejection period [PEP]) systems on adaptability and attention problems at age 8. Children (N = 250; 50% girls; 46% Latino/a) completed a startle paradigm at age 6 and parents reported on child adjustment at age 8. Results indicated that children’s later adaptation was best accounted for by the coherence of PEP and RSA recovery following the startle, such that children with the optimal recovery pattern of low PEP and high RSA evidenced more adaptability (β = 1.395, p=.046) and fewer attention problems (β = -1.348, p=.028) at age 8. In contrast, children showing incoherent ANS patterns (e.g., high activation of both systems) or a total failure to recover (e.g., high PEP and low RSA) evidenced poor adjustment. These findings highlight the importance ANS recovery capacities for understanding adaptation, and illustrate the incremental knowledge afforded by joint consideration of both branches of the ANS.


Prenatal adversities and Latino children's autonomic nervous system reactivity trajectories from 6 months to 5 years of age.

Abstract: The purpose of the study was to determine whether mothers' adversities experienced during early pregnancy are associated with offspring's autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity trajectories from 6 months to 5 years of age. This cohort study of primarily Latino families included maternal interviews at 13-14 weeks gestation about their experience of a range of adversities: father's absence, general social support, poverty level, and household density. ANS measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (parasympathetic nervous system) and preejection period (sympathetic nervous system) were collected during resting and challenging conditions on children at 6 months and 1, 3.5 and 5 years of age. Reactivity measures were calculated as the mean of the responses to challenging conditions minus a resting condition. Fixed effects models were conducted for the 212 children with two or more timepoints of ANS measures. Interactions between maternal prenatal adversity levels and child age at time of ANS protocol were included in the models, allowing the calculation of separate trajectories or slopes for each level of adversity. Results showed no significant relations between mothers' prenatal socioeconomic or social support adversity and offspring's parasympathetic nervous system trajectories, but there was a statistically significant relationship between social support adversity and offspring's heart rate trajectories (p<.05) and a borderline significant relationship between socioeconomic adversity and offspring's sympathetic nervous system trajectories (p = .05). Children whose mothers experienced one, not two, social support adversity had the smallest increases in heart rate reactivity compared to children whose mothers experienced no adversity. The children whose mothers experienced no social support and no socioeconomic adversity had the largest increases in heart rate and preejection period respectively from 6 months to 5 years showing the most plasticity. Mothers' prenatal adverse experiences may program their children's physiologic trajectory to dampen their heart rate or sympathetic responsivity to challenging conditions.

Pub.: 28 Jan '14, Pinned: 07 Jun '17