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Poster Presentation - Vagal Functioning and Cognitive Performance

Authors:
  • Alliant International University, San Diego, United States
Mark J Stern, MA, BCB, Leighton A Grampp, Carolyn J Huntley, MA, BCB, Jonathan Marquez, MA, Kevin Keeran, MA, Tammy Wildgoose, BS,
William P Curci, BA, Joscelyn Rompogren, Scott C. Wollman, Matthew G. Hall, Omar Alhassoon, PhD, Richard Gevirtz, PhD
Discussion
Findings indicate that an individual’s ability to appropriately
respond to cognitive demands may be better assessed by
dynamic vagal reactivity.
This may reflect an individual’s need to increase central
nervous system arousal, reflected by vagal withdrawal, for
cognitive activity as well as the ability to mitigate the
arousal response, reflected by vagal recovery. Vagal
recovery itself may indicate an individual’s ability to re-
inhibit sympathoexcitatory circuits.
Task difficulty and complexity appear to play a significant
role in this relationship. Easier tasks, such as the 3 second
condition of the PASAT, may not require the same dynamic
vagal arousal modulation to utilize necessary cognitive
resources.
These findings support and extend the Neurovisceral
Integration Model by specifying the vagal characteristics
most related to cognitive performance related to
information processing and working memory.
Generalizability of these findings is limited by the small
sample size and that only females have been eligible for
participation thus far.
References
1. Thayer, J., & Lane, R. (2000). A model of neurovisceral integration in emotion
regulation and dysregulation. Journal of Affective Disorders, 61(3), 201-216.
2. Thayer, J., Ahs, F., Fredrikson, M., Sollers, J., & Wager, T. (2012). A meta-
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heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health. Neuroscience and
Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(2), 747-756. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.11.009
3. Thayer, J.F., Hansen, A.L., Saus-Rose, E., & Johnsen, B.H. (2009). Heart rate
variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the
neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and
health. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 37(2), 141-53. doi: 10.1007/s12160-
009-9101-z
4. Hansen, A.L., Johnsen, B.H., & Thayer, J.F. (2003). Vagal influence in the
regulation of attention and working memory. International Journal of
Psychophysiology, 48: 263274.
5. Park, G., Vasey, M., Van Bavel, J., & Thayer, J. (2013). Cardiac vagal tone is
correlated with selective attention to neutral distractors under
load. Psychophysiology, 50(4), 398-406. doi:10.1111/psyp.12029
6. Capuana, L., Dywan, J., Tays, W., Elmers, J., Witherspoon, R., & Segalowitz,
S. (2014). Factors influencing the role of cardiac autonomic regulation in the
service of cognitive control. Biological Psychology, 10288-97.
doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.07.015
7. Stie, J., & Fox, D. (2012). Reduced Cardiac Vagal Modulation Impacts on
Cognitive Performance in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Plos ONE, 7(11), 1-8.
8. Strauss, E., Sherman, E. S., & Spreen, O. (2006). A compendium of
neuropsychological tests: Administration, norms, and commentary (3rd. ed).
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dysfunction in multiple sclerosis: I. Frequency, patterns, and
prediction. Neurology, 41(5), 685-691.
Relationship Between Cognitive Performance
and Vagal Functioning
Background
The Neurovisceral Integration Model proposes that the
reciprocity between the autonomic and central nervous
systems facilitates an individual’s ability to respond
appropriately to environmental demands1.
Neuroimaging studies show the prefrontal cortex to be
significantly associated with heart rate variability (HRV)
via the vagus nerve2, 3.
Correspondingly, HRV has been shown to be associated
with performance on tasks involving executive functions,
such as attention, working memory and inhibition4-6.
Evidence also suggests that in addition to resting HRV,
dynamic changes in vagal activity may be associated with
cognitive performance, as shown in patients with Panic
Disorder7.
The current study examines the relationship between
cognitive performance and resting vagal tone as well as
vagal withdrawal and recovery.
Objective
The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that dynamic
changes in vagal activity accounts for more variance in
cognitive performance in information processing than resting
vagal tone.
Methods
Participants
Participants were recruited from the community via free
online advertisements and local flyers.
Data was collected on 15 healthy females (mean age =
37.2, SD = 15.29). Mean education level was 15.2 years
(SD = 2.597) with a range of 12-20 years.
Participants were screened for eligibility:
Inclusion criteria:
≥ 18 years old.
Proficient in reading and writing in English
Exclusion criteria:
Self-reported indications of psychopathology.
History of cardiovascular or neurological
disorders
Major hearing or visual impairments
Evidence of Cognitive Impairment
Methods
Measures
The Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT) was
used to assess auditory information processing and
working memory8: Age and education corrected
Z-Scores were calculated based on normative data9.
Physiological data for the PSP were recorded with J&J
Engineering C2+ I330 physiological monitoring hardware
and software.
Data were analyzed with Kubios HRV software.
Vagal tone was measured by the natural log of High
Frequency (LnHF). Vagal withdrawal was measured by
the difference between LnHF at rest and during stress.
Vagal Recovery was measured as the difference between
LnHF during recovery period and during stress.
Procedure
Cardiac inter-beat-intervals were collected:
During 10 minutes baseline
During a 4 minute cognitive stressor (Serial 7’s,
while being pressed for time by the examiner)
Followed by a 5 minute of recovery period.
Following Psychophysiological assessment, the PASAT
was administered to each participant, presenting a
series of single digits via an audio recording at the rate
of one every three seconds (condition 1) and one every
two seconds (condition 2) while the examinee was asked
to add each number to the preceding number heard on
the recording.
Results
PASAT performance on both condition 1 and condition
2 was not significantly correlated with resting Vagal
Tone.
PASAT 3” was not significantly correlated with any
measure of Vagal activity.
PASAT 2” was significantly correlated with both Vagal
Withdrawal and Recovery, but not resting Vagal Tone
See Table 1 for correlation matrix
Table 1
Vagal activity and PASAT performance correlation matrix
PASAT3" Z PASAT2" Z
r p r p
Vagal Tone
-.06 .832 .277 .318
Vagal Withdrawal
.492 .074 .739**
.003
Vagal Recovery
.473 .088 .54* .046
Note.*Significance < .05 level;
**Significance < .01 level
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Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health
  • J F Thayer
  • A L Hansen
  • E Saus-Rose
  • B H Johnsen
Thayer, J.F., Hansen, A.L., Saus-Rose, E., & Johnsen, B.H. (2009). Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 37(2), 141-53. doi: 10.1007/s12160009-9101-z