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RSA reactivity to parent-child conflict as a predictor of dysregulated emotion and behavior in daily life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2020

Amy L. Byrd*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Vera Vine
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joseph E. Beeney
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Lori N. Scott
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
J. Richard Jennings
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Stephanie D. Stepp
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
*
Author for correspondence: Amy L. Byrd, E-mail: alb202@pitt.edu

Abstract

Background

Individual variability in tonic (resting) and phasic (reactivity) respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) may underlie risk for dysregulated emotion and behavior, two transdiagnostic indicators that permeate most psychological disorders in youth. The interaction between tonic and phasic RSA may specify unique physiological profiles during the transition to adolescence. The current study utilized clinically referred youth (Mage = 12.03; s.d. = 0.92) to examine baseline RSA, RSA reactivity, and their interaction as predictors of dysregulated emotion and behavior in daily life.

Method

Participants were 162 youth (47% female; 60% minority) in psychiatric treatment for any mood or behavior problem. RSA was assessed during three, 2-minute baselines and an 8-minute parent-child conflict discussion task. Dysregulated emotion and behavior were assessed during a 4-day ecological momentary assessment protocol that included 10 time-based prompts over a long weekend.

Results

Greater RSA withdrawal to the conflict was associated with dysregulated basic emotion (sadness, anger, nervousness, stress) in daily life. Two distinct interactions also emerged, such that baseline RSA was related to dysregulated complex emotion (shame, guilt, loneliness, emptiness) and dysregulated behavior as a function of RSA reactivity to conflict. Lower baseline RSA and greater RSA withdrawal were associated with dysregulated complex emotion, while higher baseline RSA and greater RSA withdrawal were associated with dysregulated behavior.

Conclusions

Findings point to physiological profiles that increase the risk of dysregulated emotion and behavior during the transition to adolescence. Excessive RSA withdrawal uniquely, and in combination with baseline RSA, increased risk for dysregulation in daily life, underscoring the role of autonomic stress responding as a risk factor for psychopathology.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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