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Atypical respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a biomarker of emotion dysregulation, is associated with both externalizing and internalizing behaviors. In addition, social adversity and gender may moderate this association. In this study, we investigated if RSA (both resting RSA and RSA reactivity in an emotion regulation task) predicts externalizing and/or internalizing behaviors and the extent to which social adversity moderates this relationship. Two hundred and fifty-three children (at Time 1, mean age D 9.05, SD D 0.60, 48% boys) and their caregivers from the community participated in this study. Resting RSA and RSA reactivity were assessed, and caregivers reported children’s externalizing and internalizing behaviors at both Time 1 and Time 2 (1 year later). We found that lower resting RSA (but not RSA reactivity) at Time 1 was associated with increased externalizing and internalizing behaviors at Time 2 in boys, even after controlling for the effects of Time 1 behavioral problems and Time 2 age. Moreover, there was a significant interaction effect between Time 1 resting RSA and social adversity such that lower resting RSA predicted higher externalizing and internalizing behaviors in boys only under conditions of high social adversity. Follow-up analyses revealed that these predictive effects were stronger for externalizing behavior than for internalizing behavior. No significant effects were found for girls. Our findings provide further evidence that low resting RSA may be a transdiagnostic biomarker of emotion dysregulation and a predisposing risk factor for both types of behavior problems, in particular for boys who grow up in adverse environments. We conclude that biosocial interaction effects and gender differences should be considered when examining the etiological mechanisms of child psychopathology.


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Psychology, available at doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01496.

This article was licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY).



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