Psychopathic Traits Partly Explained the Reduced Vagal Tone of Batterers Coping with Acute Stress

The importance of psychopathy for perpetration and maintenance of intimate partner violence (IPV) has been speculated. However, less is known about whether psychopathy would explain a psychophysiological response (cardiorespiratory and electrodermal) of IPV perpetrators dealing with acute stressors. Therefore, we first aimed to assess whether IPV perpetrators (n = 58) showed differences in psychopathic traits and their psychophysiological response to acute stress compared to nonviolent men (n = 53). Second, we examined in both groups whether psychopathic traits would explain a psychophysiological response when dealing with acute laboratory stress. Our results revealed that IPV perpetrators differed from controls in all the psychopathic traits, scoring higher on all psychopathy scales. Moreover, IPV perpetrators showed lower total respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) levels than controls. Finally, regarding high total psychopathy scores, factor 1 and affective facet entailed low RSA levels in both groups and scoring high in lifestyle facet of factor 2 explained reduced heart rate (HR) changes in response to acute stress in both groups. All these results highlighted that a reduced vagal tone could be characteristic of psychopathic traits, especially for the affective facet of psychopathy. Therefore, it would be important to incorporate biological markers in combination with psychological measurements to clearly diagnose IPV perpetrators before starting intervention programs. This would increase our ability to improve IPV intervention therapeutic targets and reduce risk of recidivism.

Understanding mechanisms of depression prevention: study protocol of a randomized cross-over trial to investigate mechanisms of mindfulness and positive fantasizing as intervention techniques for reducing perseverative cognition in remitted depressed individuals

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders, and involves high relapse rates in which persistent negative thinking and rumination (i.e., perseverative cognition [PC]) play an important role. Positive fantasizing and mindfulness are common evidence-based psychological interventions that have been shown to effectively reduce PC and subsequent depressive relapse. How the interventions cause changes in PC over time, is unknown, but likely differ between the two. Whereas fantasizing may change the valence of thought content, mindfulness may operate through disengaging from automatic thought patterns. Comparing mechanisms of both interventions in a clinical sample and a non-clinical sample can give insight into the effectivity of interventions for different individuals. The current study aims to 1) test whether momentary psychological and psychophysiological indices of PC are differentially affected by positive fantasizing versus mindfulness-based interventions, 2) test whether the mechanisms of change by which fantasizing and mindfulness affect PC differ between remitted MDD versus never-depressed (ND) individuals, and 3) explore potential moderators of the main effects of the two interventions (i.e., what works for whom).

Weakened sympathetic response and lower parasympathetic activity in intimate partner violence perpetrators when empathizing: Influence of autonomous activation in affective approach and prosocial behavior

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning has been proposed as a relevant method to characterize the therapeutic needs of intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators. Nevertheless, research has neglected the influence of the ANS on socio-affective functions in this population. The aim of the present study was to analyze the psychophysiological activity of IPV perpetrators (n = 52) compared to controls (n = 46) following an empathic induction task, performed through negative emotion-eliciting videos. We employed two general ANS markers (heart rate [HR] and respiratory rate [RR]), two sympathetic-related indexes (pre-ejection period [PEP] and skin conductance level [SCL]) and a parasympathetic biomarker (respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]). Additionally, we explored the impact of psychophysiological activity on prosocial behavior using Hare’s donation procedure. Compared to controls, IPV perpetrators reported lower HR and SCL following the task, as well as longer PEP, suggesting an attenuated sympathetic response to others’ distress. No differences in the RSA response pattern were found, however, IPV perpetrators displayed lower overall RSA levels throughout the protocol, indicative of reduced parasympathetic activity. Besides, while no differences in prosocial performance were observed, greater sympathetic responses and overall parasympathetic activity predicted increased donations across the sample. Thus, a high sympathetic and parasympathetic activity might influence the occurrence of prosocial behavior. The present study provides further evidence supporting that IPV perpetrators cope differently with others’ negative emotions. In line with this biopsychosocial perspective, insights are gained on the emotional processing of IPV perpetrators which, in turn, could contribute to improve IPV psychotherapeutic programs.

Autonomic nervous system function before and after trauma-focused psychotherapy in youth with (partial) posttraumatic stress disorder

While trauma-focused psychotherapies have been shown effective in youth with PTSD, the relationship between treatment response and alterations in autonomic nervous system (ANS) associated with PTSD, remains incompletely understood. During neutral and personalized trauma script imagery heart rate (HR), pre-ejection period (PEP) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were recorded in youth aged 8-18 with PTSD or partial PTSD (n= 76) and trauma exposed controls (TEC) (n= 27) to determine ANS activity and stress reactivity. Within the patient group, 77.6% met the full DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for PTSD, the remaining 22.4% met criteria for partial PTSD. Youth with (partial) PTSD were subsequently treated with eight sessions of either trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. PTSD severity was assessed using the Clinician-Administered PTSD scale for Children and Adolescents to divide patients into responders and non-responders. Youth with (partial) PTSD relative to TEC had higher overall HR during both neutral and trauma imagery (p =.05). Youth with (partial) PTSD showed RSA decrease during trauma imagery relative to neutral imagery, the reverse of TEC (p =.01). Relative to non-responders, responders demonstrated a significant baseline to posttreatment increase of RSA response to stress only when employing a ≥50% response criterion (p =.05) and not with the primary ≥30% criterion (p =.12). Our results suggest overall higher HR and sympathetic nervous system activity as well as vagal withdrawal in response to stress in youth with (partial) PTSD, and only provide partial support for normalization of the latter with successful trauma-focused psychotherapy.

Indicators of affective empathy, cognitive empathy, and social attention during emotional clips in relation to aggression in 3-year-olds

Research indicates that impaired empathy is a risk factor of aggression, and that social attention is important for empathy. The role of social attention in associations between empathy and aggression has not yet been fully elucidated. Therefore, indicators of affective empathy, cognitive empathy, social attention, and aggression were simultaneously assessed in children aged 45 months. Sixty-one mother-child dyads participated in a lab visit, during which maternal reports of aggression were obtained. Children watched three clips showing a sad, scared, and happy child, respectively, and a neutral social clip, while heart rate was recorded. Heart rate change from nonsocial baseline clips to emotional clips was calculated as an index of affective empathy. Questions about the emotions of the children in the clips were asked to assess cognitive empathy. Social attention was defined as time spent looking at faces during the clips. Correlation analyses revealed negative associations between affective empathy and aggression, and social attention and aggression. Furthermore, multivariate linear regression analyses indicated that the association between affective empathy and aggression was moderated by social attention: the negative association between affective empathy and aggression was stronger in children with relatively reduced social attention. No association was found between cognitive empathy and aggression. Therefore, both affective empathy and social attention are important targets for early interventions that aim to prevent or reduce aggression.

Early-warning signals derived from actigraphy and electrocardiogram time series data: is it worth a transition in clinical practice?

In my research we have investigated whether early warning signals could help in foreseeing transitions in (depressive) mood symptoms. These early warning signals have been applied successfully in other scientific fields such as biology, ecology, and economy. We expected to find these early warning signals in physiological data, specifically in movement data and heart rate data. To investigate this we asked participants to monitor their own movement and heart rate data at home for long periods of time. To ensure a correct data collection, we have tested and validated various movement and heart rate monitors. With the data we gathered we were able to investigate whether early warning signals can indeed help in foreseeing transitions in (depressive) mood symptoms. We found that in movement data from some participants there were indeed early warning signals visible, up till four weeks before a transition in (depressive) mood symptoms. In the heart rate data we found early warning signals in some participants, but we were unable to find these in other participants. In summary we found some evidence that early warning signals can help in foresee transitions in (depressive) mood symptoms. However, more research is needed to ascertain this. Future studies could also investigate using early warning signals in a more efficient manner, by for example, combining single early warning signals in aggregate predictors so they will perform better.

Planning, conducting, and analyzing a psychophysiological experiment on challenge and threat: A comprehensive tutorial

The biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat (BPS-CT) is a powerful framework linking psychological processes to reliable patterns of cardiovascular responses during motivated performance situations. Specifically, the BPS-CT poses challenge and threat as two motivational states that can emerge in response to a demanding, self-relevant task, where greater challenge arises when perceived resources are higher than demands, and greater threat arises when perceived resources are lower than demands. By identifying unique patterns of physiological responses associated with challenge and threat, respectively, the BPS-CT affords insight into subjective appraisals of resources and demands, and their determinants, during motivated performance situations. Despite its broad utility, lack of familiarity with physiological concepts and difficulty with identifying clear guidelines in the literature are barriers to wider uptake of this approach by behavioral researchers. Our goal is to remove these barriers by providing a comprehensive, step-by-step tutorial on conducting an experiment using the challenge and threat model, offering concrete recommendations for those who are new to the method, and serving as a centralized collection of resources for those looking to deepen their understanding. The tutorial spans five parts, covering theoretical introduction, lab setup, data collection, data analysis, and appendices offering additional details about data analysis and equipment. With this, we aim to make challenge and threat research, and the insights it offers, more accessible to researchers throughout the behavioral sciences.

Under Pressure? A Study of Heart Rate and Heart-Rate Variability Using SmarTerp

The results of a quasi-experimental, intra-subject study are reported on the effects of the use of SmarTerp on physiological stress levels of twelve second-year students of the MA in Interpreting at the University of Bologna during a simultaneous interpreting task. The study, part of a broader project, explores the rendition of terminological units, proper names, and numbers and its correlation with stress levels, to provide insights into SmarTerp’s practical usefulness in the field. Physiological stress levels were measured through heart rate and heart-rate variability indicators with Empatica E4 wristbands. Participants took part in three data-collection sessions over a month. In sessions 1 and 3 the participants interpreted two speeches, one with SmarTerp and another one without it. Descriptive findings hinted at a potential stress-alleviating effect of interpreting with SmarTerp, especially when interpreting into a second language. However, all inferential statistical results consistently revealed non-significant outcomes. Furthermore, stress levels did not decrease significantly over time when using SmarTerp. While the non-significant reduction in stress may cast doubt on the tool’s efficacy, the complexity and multiple variables influencing stress in interpreting tasks should be factored in. SmarTerp may serve its primary purpose in aiding accurate rendition of terminological units, proper names, and numbers.

Exploring Co-offending in Residential Burglary through Virtual Reality : A Novel Approach

This paper aims to extend the use of virtual reality (VR) as a method to explore co-offending in residential burglary. VR has only been used to investigate solo offenders, despite a large part of burglaries being committed by multiple offenders. At the same time, co-offending can affect the behavior, cognitions, and decision-making of the burglars and exacerbate the consequences for the victims. A multi-user VR simulation was used to conduct a virtual burglary, in which participants were instructed to cooperate in couples to successfully complete the burglary. During the experiment, multiple data were recorded, such as their behavior, conversations, and heart rate. After the completion of the virtual burglary, participants completed questionnaires related to presence and cooperation.

A Novel Approach to Investigate the Impact of Mindset and Physiology on the Choice to Invest Effort During an Arithmetic Task

Growth mindset, the belief that personal attributes such as intelligence are malleable, has previously been related to more effort investment. Here, we investigated how undergraduates’ mindset (N = 114) relates to the choice to invest effort during an arithmetic task, indexed by whether they make low vs. high effort-related choices. Social cognitive theory suggests that past performance experiences (mastery vs. failure) and physiological state are important sources for competence self-evaluations. Therefore, in addition to mindset, we also investigated how effort-related choices are influenced more dynamically, by failures and physiological responses during the task. Growth mindset and physiological effort mobilization did not predict effort-related choices but making mistakes did predict lower effort choices in the subsequent round. This study further supports the importance of mastery experiences for effort investment and provides a novel approach for integrating different levels of influence on effort-related choices during an educationally-relevant task.