Palser-Morris-2021

Authors: Eleanor. R. Palser, Nathaniel A. Morris, Ashlin R.K. Roy, Sarah R. Holley, Christina R. Veziris, Christa Watson, Jessica Deleon, Zachary A. Miller, Bruce L. Miller, Maria Luisa Gorno-Tempini, Virginia E. Sturm.

Article: Children with developmental dyslexia show elevated parasympathetic nervous system activity at rest and greater cardiac deceleration during an empathy task.

Publication: Biological Psychology (Elsevier). 108203 2021 | DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2021.108203

[Full Text]

Highlights

Children with dyslexia show higher resting RSA than neurotypical children.
Higher resting RSA predicts greater cardiac deceleration during an empathy task.
Children with dyslexia show greater cardiac deceleration during an empathy task.

Abstract

Reading difficulties are the hallmark feature of dyslexia, but less is known about other areas of functioning. Previously, we found children with dyslexia exhibited heightened emotional reactivity, which correlated with better social skills. Whether emotional differences in dyslexia extend to the parasympathetic nervous system—an autonomic branch critical for attention, social engagement, and empathy—is unknown. Here, we measured autonomic nervous system activity in 24 children with dyslexia and 24 children without dyslexia, aged 7 – 12, at rest and during a film-based empathy task. At rest, children with dyslexia had higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) than those without dyslexia. Cardiac deceleration during the empathy task was greater in dyslexia and correlated with higher resting RSA across the sample. Children with dyslexia produced more facial expressions of concentration during film-viewing, suggesting greater engagement. These results suggest elevated resting parasympathetic activity and accentuated autonomic and behavioral responding to others’ emotions in dyslexia.

Tagged as: emotional reactivity, empathy, neurodiversity, and parasympathetic nervous system

Citation:

Eleanor. R. Palser, Nathaniel A. Morris, Ashlin R.K. Roy, Sarah R. Holley, Christina R. Veziris, Christa Watson, Jessica Deleon, Zachary A. Miller, Bruce L. Miller, Maria Luisa Gorno-Tempini, Virginia E. Sturm,
Children with developmental dyslexia show elevated parasympathetic nervous system activity at rest and greater cardiac deceleration during an empathy task, Biological Psychology, 2021,108203

Excerpts from Full Text / Notes:

From Discussion:

Activity in the parasympathetic nervous system fluctuates as people orient, attend, and respond to salient stimuli. In typically developing children, those with greater resting parasympathetic activity are better able to shift and sustain attentional focus. Activity in the parasympathetic nervous system fluctuates as people orient, attend, and respond to salient stimuli. In typically developing children, those with greater resting parasympathetic activity are better able to shift and sustain attentional focus. During cognitive tasks, cardiac deceleration occurs when people orient to new information, maintain attention over time, and process uncertain or ambiguous stimuli. By slowing the heart and fostering facial expressivity, the parasympathetic nervous system is also thought to be critical for social sensitivity and other-oriented empathic responses.

The results of the present study extend emerging conceptualizations of emotions and empathy in dyslexia.

Although additional research is needed, these initial studies suggest outflow from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system may be enhanced in dyslexia. Our studies suggest that while children with dyslexia may be more reactive to affective cues in general, they may also be better equipped to maintain an other-oriented stance that allows them to notice and respond to those around them. Together, fine-tuned functioning in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in dyslexia may promote nuanced empathic responding and skilled social behavior.

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