Quantifying respiratory sinus arrhythmia: Effects of misspecifying breathing frequencies across development

Tiffany M. Shader, Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp, Sheila E. Crowell, M. Jamila Reid, Julian F. Thayer, Michael W. Vasey, Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ziv Bell, Theodore P. Beauchaine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Low resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and to a lesser extent excessive RSA reactivity to emotion evocation, are observed in many psychiatric disorders characterized by emotion dysregulation, including syndromes spanning the internalizing and externalizing spectra, and other conditions such as nonsuicidal self-injury. Nevertheless, some inconsistencies exist. For example, null outcomes in studies of RSA-emotion dysregulation relations are sometimes observed among younger participants. Such findings may derive from use of age inappropriate frequency bands in calculating RSA. We combine data from five published samples (N = 559) spanning ages 4 to 17 years, and reanalyze RSA data using age-appropriate respiratory frequencies. Misspecifying respiratory frequencies results in overestimates of resting RSA and underestimates of RSA reactivity, particularly among young children. Underestimates of developmental shifts in RSA and RSA reactivity from preschool to adolescence were also observed. Although correlational analyses revealed weak negative associations between resting RSA and aggression, those with clinical levels of externalizing exhibited lower resting RSA than their peers. No associations between RSA reactivity and externalizing were observed. Results confirm that age-corrected frequency bands should be used when estimating RSA, and that literature-wide overestimates of resting RSA, underestimates of RSA reactivity, and underestimates of developmental shifts in RSA and RSA reactivity may exist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-366
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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