Although anatomical research clearly demonstrates the ability of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system to independently influence cardiac function, little research has examined whether coordinated activation is typical or whether the extent of autonomic coordination is situationally dependent. This study examines the extent of coordination between sympathetic (cardiac pre-ejection period: PEP) and parasympathetic (respiratory sinus arrhythmia: RSA) influences on the cardiac function to determine whether coordination is a trait-like between-person characteristic or a state-varying within-person phenomenon, and if so, whether variability in autonomic coordination is modulated by cognitive (P3b amplitude) or affective state. Kindergarten-aged children (n = 257) completed a go/no-go task administered in blocks designed to induce affective states through the delivery of reward (Blocks 1 and 3) and frustration (Block 2). Results from multilevel models that allowed for the simultaneous examination of between-person and within-person associations in the repeated measures data suggested that (a) children with higher overall RSA also tended to have higher overall PEP; (b) at within-person level, RSA and PEP tended to be reciprocally coordinated; but that (c) when frustration invokes cognitive disengagement, coordination between parasympathetic and sympathetic systems demonstrate compensatory coordination. These findings highlight the extent to which the coordination of autonomic systems is a dynamic state-like phenomenon rather than a trait-like individual differences characteristic.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry