Linking Cardiac Vagal Tone, Performance & (High) Stress

Research Paper Title

Relation between cardiac vagal tone and performance in male military personnel exposed to high stress: three prospective studies.

Background

Vagal tone has been proposed both as an index of emotion regulation and cognitive ability.

Methods

To assess the relation between vagal tone and emotion regulation and cognitive ability, the present research prospectively measured vagal tone (measured either as high-frequency spectral power or respiratory sinus arrhythmia) in healthy participants exposed to high stress.

The participants were active duty military personnel (men) enrolled in high intensity military training:

  • Survival School (Experiments 1 and 3); and
  • Combat Diver Qualification Course (Experiment 2).

Results

The researchers consistently observed a significant relationship between low vagal tone and superior performance.

Conclusions

The data suggest that vagal suppression is associated with enhanced performance under conditions of high stress and that this enhanced performance may be related to emotion regulation and cognitive functioning.

Reference

Morgan, C.A. 3rd., Aikins, D.E., Steffian, G., Coric, V. & Southwick, S. (2007) Relation between cardiac vagal tone and performance in male military personnel exposed to high stress: three prospective studies. Pyschophysiology. 44(1), pp.120-127.

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