The interactive effect of change in perceived stress and trait anxiety on vagal recovery from cognitive challenge

Crowley, Olga V.; McKinley, Paula S.; Burg, Matthew M.; Schwartz, Joseph E.; Ryff, Carol D.; Weinstein, Maxine; Seeman, Teresa E.; Sloan, Richard P.

The present study tested the hypothesis that the change in state negative affect (measured as perceived stress) after cognitive challenge moderates the relationship of trait anxiety and anger to vagal recovery from that challenge.

Cardiac vagal control (assessed using heart rate variability) and respiratory rate were measured in a sample of 905 participants from the Midlife in the United States Study. Cognitive challenges consisted of computerized mental arithmetic and Stroop color–word matching tasks. Multiple regression analyses controlling for the effects of the demographic, lifestyle, and medical factors influencing cardiac vagal control showed a significant moderating effect of change in perceived stress on the relationship of trait anxiety to vagal recovery from cognitive challenges (Beta = .253, p = .013). After adjustment for respiratory rate, this effect became marginally significant (Beta = .177, p = .037). In contrast, for the relationship of trait anger to vagal recovery, this effect was not significant either before (Beta = .141, p = .257) or after (Beta = .186, p = .072) adjusting for respiratory rate. Secondary analyses revealed that among the individuals with higher levels of trait anxiety, greater reductions in perceived stress were associated with greater increases in cardiac vagal control after the challenge. In contrast, among the individuals with lower levels of trait anxiety, changes in perceived stress had no impact on vagal recovery. Therefore, change in perceived stress moderates the relationship of trait anxiety, but not trait anger, to vagal recovery from cognitive challenge.


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International Journal of Psychophysiology

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