Cardiac vagal control predicts spontaneous regulation of negative emotional expression and subsequent cognitive performance Academic Article uri icon


  • The present research investigated whether cardiac vagal control (as measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA) predicts an individual's predisposition to suppress negative emotional expressions. One hundred thirty-six participants watched either a negative film or a neutral film. Facial expressions were recorded during the film and subjective emotional responses were assessed afterwards. Participants performed verbal and spatial working memory tasks both before and after the film clips. We found that resting RSA modulated the degree of coherence between facial expressions of emotion and subjective emotional experience in the negative film condition. Specifically, participants with higher resting RSA expressed less but reported feeling just as much negative emotion as those with lower resting RSA. Moreover, higher resting RSA predicted smaller pre-film to post-film improvements in spatial working memory performance in the negative film condition, suggesting that expressive suppression among high RSA participants temporarily undermined the operation of working memory. In the neutral film condition, resting RSA did not relate to expressive or subjective responses or subsequent working memory performance. These results support the notion that cardiac vagal control reflects an internal marker of self-regulatory tendencies and suggest that spontaneous self-regulation associated with individual differences in resting RSA may temporarily deplete self-regulatory resources. © 2009 Elsevier B.V.

author list (cited authors)

  • Pu, J., Schmeichel, B. J., & Demaree, H. A.

citation count

  • 56

publication date

  • July 2010