The association between negative affect, alpha asymmetry and heart rate variability.

Proposal details

Title: The association between negative affect, alpha asymmetry and heart rate variability.
Research Area(s): Emotion and Self Regulation
Background: Independent lines of research have implicated heart rate variability and alpha asymmetry as neural correlates of negative affect. However, the possibility that the two variables of interest have converging roles in emotional regulation remains unexplored. The current project will draw on the INTEGRATE theoretical framework of brain organisation, in which both heart rate variability and alpha asymmetry are proposed as measures of “self-regulation”; a process integral to the maintenance of optimal mental health (Williams et al., 2008; Gordon et al., 2008). Alpha activity is observed in scalp electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings taken from resting, awake individuals. These waves lie between the 8-13Hz range, and are considered inversely related to underlying cortical activity (Cook et al., 1998; Allen, Coan & Nazarian, 2004). Alpha asymmetry represents the ratio of alpha activity in the right compared to left hemisphere. Evidence from EEG studies has contributed to a large body of literature showing that negative affect is associated with greater right relative to left frontal activity at rest (Thibodeau et al., 2006; Davidson, 1998, 2004). For specific interpretations of how frontal asymmetry relates to depression and anxiety, two particular frameworks of emotions are generally consulted: the approach-withdrawal (Davidson, 1988, 1990, 1992) and the valence, arousal (Heller, 1993) dimensional models. According to Davidson and colleagues, frontal asymmetries reflect a balance between the motivation to approach (subserved by right frontal cortex) or withdraw (subserverd by left frontal cortex) from a stimulus. Complementary to this, Heller and colleagues incorporate the two dimensions of valence and arousal to account for frontal asymmetry, such that positive affect is associated with left frontal function and negative affect with right frontal function. The valence, arousal model extends on Davidson’s approach-withdrawal conceptual theory by incorporation of an arousal component (high/low) proposed to relate to right parietotemporal function (Heller, 1993). The measure of HRV, or beat to beat changes in heart rate, is considered to index autonomic flexibility (Gross, 1998; Porges, 2007). The high frequency (HF) component of HRV reflects the effect of parasympathetic (vagal) influence on autononmic chronotropic activity (Kamath, Ghista & Fallen, 1987). Furthermore, it has been found to be inversely related to negative affect in both clinical and normal samples (Bleil, 2008; Rottenberg, 2007). This association is present even after statistically controlling for cardiovascular risk factors like age, sex, race, education, body-mass index, smoking status and blood pressure (Bleil, 2008). A hierarchy of cortical and subcortical structures modulate the level of sympathetic and vagal influence on chronotropic cardiac activity (Thayer & Siegle, 2002). While there is evidence to suggest that this central control of autonomic influence may also be lateralised, the nature of this lateralisation is contentious (Wittling 1997, Ahern et al. 2001, Thayer & Brosschot, 2005). These independent lines of research suggest a two-tailed proposal, such that right-frontal asymmetry may be associated with either reduced HRV (given that prior research has identified right-asymmetry and reduced HRV in depression) or increased HRV (given that prior research has highlighted a role right-frontal hemisphere in regulation of the autonomic system and lower level limbic structures). This project will attempt to untangle possible relationships between affect, HRV and frontal asymmetry in the same participant sample.
Aims: To determine the degree to which measures of alpha asymmetry and heart rate variability are able to predict negative affect, and to examine the association between them.
Method: An adult sample (18-60 years) will be drawn down from the BRID and grouped on the basis of their level of negative affect (as operationalised by DASS). Analysis will involve ANOVA (contrast of participants scoring low and high on DASS) and Multiple Regression (to determine the extent to which alpha asymmetry and HRV predict DASS). References: Ahern, G. L., Sollers, J. J., Lane, R. D., Labiner, D. M., Herring, A. M., Weinand, M. E., Hutzler, R., & Thayer, J. F. (2001). Heart rate and heart rate variability changes in the intracarotid sodium amobarbital test. Epilepsia, 42(7), 912-921. Allen, J. J., Coan, J. A., & Nazarian, M. (2004). Issues and assumptions on the road from raw signals to metrics of frontal EEG asymmetry in emotion. Biological Psychology, 67(1-2), 183-218. Bleil, M. E., Gianaros, P. J., Jennings, J. R., Flory, J. D., & Manuck, S. B. (2008). Trait negative affect: toward an integrated model of understanding psychological risk for impairment in cardiac autonomic function. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(3), 328-337. Cook, I. A. (1998). Assessing the accuracy of topographic EEG mapping for determining local brain function. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 107, 408-414. Davidson, R. J. (1993). Cerebral asymmetry and emotion: Conceptual and methodological conundrums. Cognition and Emotion, 7, 115-138. Davidson, R. J. (1998). Affective Style and Affective Disorders: Perspectives from Affective Neuroscience. Cognition and Emotion, 12(3), 307-330. Davidson, R. J. (2004). What does the prefrontal cortex "do" in affect: perspectives on frontal EEG asymmetry research. Biological Psychology, 67(1-2), 219-233. Gordon, E., Barnett, K. J., Cooper, N. J., Tran, N., & Williams, L. M. (2008). An "integrative neuroscience" platform: Application to profiles of negativity and positivity bias. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 7, 345. Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299. Heller, W. (1993). Neuropsychological Mechanisms of Individual Differences in Emotion, Personality, and Arousal. Neuropsychology, 7(4), 476-489. Kamath MV, G. D., Fallen EL, Fitchett D, Miller D, McKelvie R. (1987). Heart rate variability power spectrogram as a potential noninvasive signature of cardiac regulatory system response, mechanisms, and disorders. Heart Vessels, 3(1), 33-41. Porges, S. W. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biol Psychol, 74(2), 116-143. Rottenberg, J. (2007). Cardiac vagal control in depression: a critical analysis. Biological Psychology, 74(2), 200-211. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178. Thayer, J., & Siegle, G. (2002). Neurovisceral integration in cardiac and emotional regulation. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, 21(4), 24-29. Thayer, J. F., & Brosschot, J. F. (2005). Psychosomatics and psychopathology: looking up and down from the brain. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(10), 1050-1058. Thibodeau, R., Randall, J. S. and Kim, S. (2006). Depression, anxiety, and resting frontal EEG asymmetry: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115(4), 715-729. Watson, D., & Tellegen, A. (1985). Toward a consensual structure of mood. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 219–235. Wittling, W. (1997). Brain asymmetry and autonomic control of the heart. European Psychologist, 2(4), 313-327.