Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 39–50 | Cite as

Attenuating Physiological Arousal Through the Manipulation of Simple Hand Movements

  • Shaun S. StearnsEmail author
  • Raymond Fleming
  • Lindsay J. Fero


The current study tests whether manipulating simple motor movements can regulate one’s physiological reactivity to negative images. Healthy college age participants were randomly assigned to no tapping, steady tapping, or slow tapping conditions and viewed two sets of 15 negative images from the international affective picture system. Participants viewed the first image set without manipulation. During the second image set, they were instructed to tap at a steady pace, a slow pace or not at all. Steady tapping suppressed the vagal component of the cardiovascular defense response, and produced a significant increase in respiration rate and skin conductance level (SCL). Slow tapping suppressed the sympathetic and enhanced the vagal components of the cardiovascular defensive response, and produced a decrease in heart rate, SCL and skin conductance responses to negative images. Results suggest that manipulating simple motor movements is an effective way to both up-regulate and more importantly, down-regulate one’s physiological response to negative affective images. Manipulation of slow and simple motor movements may be an effective means to attenuate autonomic arousal.


Emotion regulation Sympathetic arousal Negative images Stress Anxiety Coping Biofeedback 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shaun S. Stearns
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Raymond Fleming
    • 1
  • Lindsay J. Fero
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.Colorado SpringsUSA

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