Published:  2022

Psychophysiological responses to sadness in girls and boys with conduct disorder

Authors:  Helena Oldenhof, Lucres Jansen, Katharina Ackermann, Rosalind Baker, Molly Batchelor, Sarah Baumann, Anka Bernhard, Roberta Clanton, Roberta Dochnal, Lynn Valérie Fehlbaum, Aranzazu Fernandez-Rivas, Sarah Goergen, Maider Gonzalez de Artaza-Lavesa, Karen Gonzalez-Madruga, Miguel Angel Gonzalez-Torres, Malou Gundlach, Mara Lotte van der Hoeven, Zacharias Kalogerakis, Krisztina Kapornai, Meinhard Kieser, Angeliki Konsta, Anne Martinelli, Ruth Pauli, Jack Rogers, Areti Smaragdi, Eva Sesma-Pardo, Réka Siklósi, Martin Steppan, Foteini Tsiakoulia, Robert Vermeiren, Noortje Vriends, Marleen Werner, Beate Herpertz-Dahlmann, Gregor Kohls, Stephane De Brito, Kerstin Konrad, Christina Stadler, Graeme Fairchild, Christine M. Freitag, Arne Popma

Tags:  Conduct Disorder, Emotions, Heart Rate, Human Sex Differences, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Psychophysiology, Respiratory System, Sadness

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Reduced responsiveness to emotions is hypothesized to contribute to the development of conduct disorder (CD) in children and adolescents. Accordingly, blunted psychophysiological responses to emotions have been observed in boys with CD, but this has never been tested in girls. Therefore, this study compared psychophysiological responses to sadness in girls and boys with and without CD, and different clinical phenotypes of CD: with versus without limited prosocial emotions (LPE), and with versus without comorbid internalizing disorders (INT). Nine-hundred and 27 girls (427 CD, 500 controls) and 519 boys (266 CD, 253 controls) aged 9–18 years participated. Psychophysiological responses were measured while participants watched two validated sad film clips, specifically: heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; indexing parasympathetic activity), preejection period (PEP; indexing sympathetic activity). Girls and boys with CD showed larger HR responses to sadness than controls. This effect was rendered nonsignificant, however, after controlling for covariates. We observed aberrant RSA responses to sadness in CD compared with controls. Similarly, we found a significant positive association between RSA responsivity and antisocial behavior when assessed dimensionally. The effects were very small, though. Results were similar for boys and girls. We found no evidence for emotional underresponsiveness in CD in the largest psychophysiological study to date in this field. More research is needed to explore whether this is specific to sadness or generalizes to other emotions. Furthermore, we recommend that studies on emotion processing in CD assess different physiological measures to help disentangle CD-related effects on sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)