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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A mind -heart connection: A study of vagal reactivity to a prompt of perseverative cognition of personally relevant stress
by Scheatzle, Judith C., Ph.D., Capella University, 2009, 86; 3329875
Abstract (Summary)

The experience of stress is commonly associated with development of cardiovascular disease; however, biological mechanisms through which this occurs is still unclear. The present research sought to illuminate the biocognitive pathway through which psychosocial stress and physiology integrate to influence cardiovascular health. Current theoretical positions on parasympathetic influence, the Polyvagal Theory (Porges, 1995) and the model of neurovisceral integration (Thayer & Lane, 2000), suggest that attention to and engagement with the environment is cardiovascularly mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system through the main neural highway of that system, the vagus nerve. Both theoretical positions contend that vagal regulation reflects the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system on cardiovascular functioning and can be assessed through measure of heart rate variability (HRV). Based on the proposition that parasympathetic influence may play a greater role in moderation of stress-related physiological responses than has traditionally been assumed, the current study examined parasympathetic influence by assessing directional modes of vagal reactivity (HRV-R) in 25 healthy, pre-menopausal women following a task to prompt perseverative cognition of personally relevant stress, reflecting the ability of humans to cognitively represent stressors or stressful situations in the absence of the stressor or event. Results supported the hypothesis that women who were able to "dampen" physiological response to perseverative cognition by an increase in vagal functioning (vagal augmenters) would show cardiovascular benefits. Vagal augmenters demonstrated a trend toward lower resting heart rate (HR) and significantly increased HRV following the task; while women who demonstrated decreased or unchanged vagal regulation (vagal suppressors) tended to have higher resting HR and significantly lower HRV. Congruent with reactivity hypotheses, results suggest that vagal regulation may be sensitive to an exercise effect that can strengthen the ability to moderate physiological responses to stress. It is feasible that characteristically dampening physiological responses to perseverative cognition of stress by increased vagal regulation might assist in lowering cardiovascular risk by helping to maintain or lower heart rate over time.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fossum, Thyra
Commitee: Graham, Robert, Langan, Gina, Wolkslee, Patricia
School: Capella University
Department: School of Psychology
School Location: United States -- Minnesota
Source: DAI-B 69/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Psychobiology, Physiological psychology
Keywords: Heart rate variability, Perseverative cognition, Polyvagal theory, Stress, Stress-related cardiovascular disease, Theory of neurovisceral integration, Vagal reactivity, Vagus
Publication Number: 3329875
ISBN: 978-0-549-81744-4
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