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The Effectiveness of Combat Tactical Breathing as Compared with Prolonged Exhalation

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Tactical breathing (TB) is used by military and law enforcement personnel to reduce stress and maintain psychomotor and cognitive performance in dangerous situations (Grossman and Christensen, in On combat: the psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace, PPCT Research Publications, Belleville, 2008). So far, empirical evidence on the effectiveness of TB is limited and there are breathing techniques that are easier to learn and to apply. This study compared the effectiveness of tactical breathing and prolonged exhalation (ProlEx) under laboratory conditions. Thirty healthy participants performed a Stroop interference task under time pressure and noise distraction. Time pressure was induced with short inter-trial intervals of 350 ms and short trial durations of 1500 ms. Acoustic distraction was realised with white noise with intensity increasing from 77 to 89 dB SPL over the course of an experimental block. In a counterbalanced repeated-measures design, participants used either TB or ProlEx to reduce the induced psychological and physiological arousal. Stress reactions were assessed on the subjective level (Steyer et al., in Multidimensional mood questionnaire (MDMQ), Hogrefe, Göttingen, 1997) and on the physiological level (heart rate, heart rate variability, electrodermal activity). Results showed no significant differences between breathing techniques on the subjective level. While participants showed a lower physiological arousal in the TB condition, better performance was achieved in the ProlEx condition. Results indicate that TB may be superior in passive coping conditions, while ProlEx is more effective when active coping is required.

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We wish to thank Dr. Andreas Löw for programming the acoustic stress induction and Philipp Demel for measuring and calibrating the sound pressure level of the acoustic stressor. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable remarks on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stefan Röttger.

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All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants. Ethical review and approval was not required for this study in accordance with the institutional requirements.

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Röttger, S., Theobald, D.A., Abendroth, J. et al. The Effectiveness of Combat Tactical Breathing as Compared with Prolonged Exhalation. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 46, 19–28 (2021).

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