Children’s Externalizing and Internalizing Symptoms over Time: The Role of Individual Differences in Patterns of RSA Responding

  • James Benjamin HinnantEmail author
  • Mona El-Sheikh


We examined associations between basal respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) in conjunction with RSA regulation with the hypothesis that their interaction would explain unique variability in children’s prospective adjustment 2 years later. Participants were 176 children (98 girls; 78 boys) in middle childhood. RSA regulation was assessed through social and problem-solving challenges. Parents reported on children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Interactions between RSA baseline and regulation to the social stressor predicted children’s later internalizing symptoms. Interactions between RSA baseline and responding to the problem-solving stressor predicted children’s externalizing symptoms. The highest levels of internalizing symptoms were predicted for children with both lower basal RSA and higher RSA suppression. The highest levels of externalizing symptoms were predicted for children who demonstrated lower basal RSA in conjunction with RSA augmentation. Findings highlight the importance of the contemporaneous consideration of basal RSA and RSA regulation in the prediction of developmental psychopathology symptomology.


Respiratory sinus arrhythmia Vagal tone Parasympathetic nervous system Internalizing symptoms Externalizing symptoms Longitudinal Child development Middle childhood 



This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grants 0339115 and 0623936. We acknowledge contributions made by staff of our Research Laboratory, most notably Lori Staton and Bridget Wingo, for data collection and preparation. We also thank school personnel, and children and parents who participated.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Development and Family Studies, 203 Spidle HallAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

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