Publications by authors named "Helmut K Lackner"

38 Publications

Functional (un-)Coupling: Impairment, Compensation, and Future Progression in Alzheimer's Disease.

Clin EEG Neurosci 2021 Oct 18:15500594211052208. Epub 2021 Oct 18.

Department of Neurology, 31475Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Functional (un-)coupling (task-related change of functional connectivity) between different sites of the brain is a mechanism of general importance for cognitive processes. In Alzheimer's disease (AD), prior research identified diminished cortical connectivity as a hallmark of the disease. However, little is known about the relation between the amount of functional (un-)coupling and cognitive performance and decline in AD. Cognitive performance (based on CERAD-Plus scores) and electroencephalogram (EEG)-based functional (un-)coupling measures (connectivity changes from rest to a Face-Name-Encoding task) were assessed in 135 AD patients (age:  = 73.8 years;  = 9.0). Of these, 68 patients ( = 73.9 years;  = 8.9) participated in a follow-up assessment of their cognitive performance 1.5 years later. The amounts of functional (un-)coupling in left anterior-posterior and homotopic interhemispheric connections in beta1-band were related to cognitive performance at baseline (β = .340;  < .001; β = .274;  = .001, respectively). For both markers, a higher amount of functional coupling was associated with better cognitive performance. Both markers also were significant predictors for cognitive decline. However, while patients with greater functional coupling in left anterior-posterior connections declined less in cognitive performance (β = .329;  = .035) those with greater functional coupling in interhemispheric connections declined more (β = -.402;  = .010). These findings suggest an important role of functional coupling mechanisms in left anterior-posterior and interhemispheric connections in AD. Especially the complex relationship with cognitive decline in AD patients might be an interesting aspect for future studies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/15500594211052208DOI Listing
October 2021

Cardiorespiratory Interaction and Autonomic Sleep Quality Improve during Sleep in Beds Made from (Stone Pine) Solid Wood.

Int J Environ Res Public Health 2021 09 16;18(18). Epub 2021 Sep 16.

Physiology Division, Otto Loewi Research Center for Vascular Biology, Immunology and Inflammation, Medical University of Graz, 8010 Graz, Austria.

Cardiorespiratory interactions (CRIs) reflect the mutual tuning of two important organismic oscillators-the heartbeat and respiration. These interactions can be used as a powerful tool to characterize the self-organizational and recreational quality of sleep. In this randomized, blinded and cross-over design study, we investigated CRIs in 15 subjects over a total of 253 nights who slept in beds made from different materials. One type of bed, used as control, was made of melamine faced chipboard with a wood-like appearance, while the other type was made of solid wood from stone pine (). We observed a significant increase of vagal activity (measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia), a decrease in the heart rate (as an indicator of energy consumption during sleep) and an improvement in CRIs, especially during the first hours of sleep in the stone pine beds as compared to the chipboard beds. Subjective assessments of study participants' well-being in the morning and sub-scalar assessments of their intrapsychic stability were significantly better after they slept in the stone pine bed than after they slept in the chipboard bed. Our observations suggest that CRIs are sensitive to detectable differences in indoor settings that are relevant to human health. Our results are in agreement with those of other studies that have reported that exposure to volatile phytochemical ingredients of stone pine (α-pinene, limonene, bornyl acetate) lead to an improvement in vagal activity and studies that show a reduction in stress parameters upon contact with solid wood surfaces.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189749DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472742PMC
September 2021

[Symptom Monitoring and Detection of Early Warning Signs in Bipolar Episodes Via App - Views of Patients and Relatives on e-Health Need].

Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2021 Aug 6. Epub 2021 Aug 6.

Psychiatrie und Psychotherapeutische Medizin, Medizinische Universität Graz, Graz, Austria.

Background: The onset and early warning signs of episodes of bipolar disorder are often realized late by those affected. The earlier an incipient episode is treated, the more prognostically favorable the course will be. Symptom monitoring via smartphone application (app) could be an innovative way to recognize and react to early warning signs more swiftly. The aim of this study was to find out whether patients and their relatives consider technical support through an app to be useful and practical in the early warning sign detection and treatment.

Methods: In the present study, 51 patients with bipolar disorder and 28 relatives were interviewed. We gathered information on whether participants were able to perceive early warning signs in form of behavioral changes sufficiently and in a timely fashion and also whether they would use an app as treatment support tool.

Results: Although 94.1% of the surveyed patients and 78.6% of their relatives felt that they were well informed about the disease, 13.7% and 35.7%, respectively were not fully satisfied with the current treatment options. Early warning signs of every depressive development were noticed by 25.5% of the patients (relatives 10.7%). Every (hypo)manic development was only noticed by 11.8% of the patients (relatives 7.1%); 88.2% of the patients and 85.7% of the relatives noticed the same symptoms recurrently at the beginning of a depression and 70.6% and 67.9%, respectively, at the beginning of a (hypo)manic episode (in particular changes in physical activity, communication behavior and the sleep-wake rhythm). 84.3% of the patients and 89.3% of the relatives stated that they considered technical support that draws attention to mood and activity changes as useful and that they would use such an app for the treatment.

Discussion: The current options for perceiving early warning signs of a depressive or (hypo)manic episode in bipolar disorder are clinically inadequate. Those affected and their relatives desire innovative, technical support. Early detection of symptoms, which often manifest themselves in changes in behavior or activity patterns, is essentiell for managing the course of bipolar disorder. In the future, smartphone apps could be used for clinical treatment and research through objective, continuous and.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/a-1503-4986DOI Listing
August 2021

Differences in Hemodynamic, Hormonal and Heart Rate Variability Parameters in Complication-Free Pregnancies Compared to Individuals with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Preeclampsia: An Observational Retrospective Analysis.

Life (Basel) 2021 Jun 29;11(7). Epub 2021 Jun 29.

Otto Loewi Research Center, Division of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, 8036 Graz, Austria.

To investigate differences in hemodynamic, hormonal and heart rate variability parameters in women following complication-free pregnancies (healthy), preeclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) after giving childbirth. Data of 60 women (healthy: n = 29, age 32.7 ± 4.5 years, BMI 24.2 ± 4.3 kg/m; preeclampsia: n = 16, age 35.3 ± 4.4 years, 28.5 ± 6.4 kg/m; GDM, n = 15, age 32.3 ± 6.0 years, BMI 26.4 ± 6.2 kg/m) were included. Two visits were conducted 16 and 48 weeks after giving childbirth. Hair samples were taken for analysis of cortisol and testosterone. ECG and blood pressure were recorded at each visit. Data were analyzed via RM-ANOVA and post-hoc testing ( ≤ 0.05). Heart rate increased from visit 1 to visit 2, whereas SDNN decreased (both = 0.03). RMSSD showed an increased trend for groups ( = 0.06). Testosterone in the GDM group was significantly higher compared to the other groups ( = 0.002). Cortisol levels were significantly higher following post-hoc testing GDM was different compared to healthy individuals ( = 0.02). Hemodynamic changes from week 16 to week 48 did not differ between groups ( > 0.05). No differences between individuals with preeclampsia and healthy individuals were found for all hemodynamic parameters ( > 0.05). The study showed higher levels of chronic stress indicators in GDM measured via heart rate variability and cortisol compared to women with a history of preeclampsia and healthy women.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/life11070626DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8306108PMC
June 2021

Unaffected Memory and Inhibitory Functioning Several Weeks Postpartum in Women with Pregnancy Complicated by Preeclampsia.

Behav Sci (Basel) 2021 Apr 18;11(4). Epub 2021 Apr 18.

Otto Loewi Research Center, Division of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, 8010 Graz, Austria.

Several studies reported impaired cognitive functioning after pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia. The present study examined cognitive and executive functioning in women with preeclampsia at a time at which immediate effects of gestation have resolved, brain damage due to other risk factors have not yet manifested, and impairments may thus primarily occur as a result of the huge stress induced by the potentially life threatening condition. Verbal learning/memory (California Verbal Learning Test) and inhibitory functioning (Mittenecker Pointing Test) of 35 women with preeclampsia and 38 women with uncomplicated pregnancy were followed over five measurement time points during the period from 16 to 48 weeks postpartum. A further control group comprised 40 women with no history of recent pregnancy. The groups did not differ in their verbal learning/memory performance. Higher levels of currently experienced everyday-life stress were associated with poorer inhibitory control/greater stereotypy in responding, but this effect was not directly connected with pregnancy complications. Taken together, the findings do not indicate rapid-onset cognitive impairment after preeclampsia, brought about by its extremely stressful nature or other factors that take effect during gestation. Deficits observed in later life may develop on a long-term basis through late-diagnosed hypertension and unfavorable lifestyle factors. The large time window in which exaggerated cognitive decline can be prevented or mitigated should be utilized for the control of risk factors and interventions to improve lifestyle where appropriate.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/bs11040055DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8072974PMC
April 2021

The Impacts of the Presence of an Unfamiliar Dog on Emerging Adults' Physiological and Behavioral Responses Following Social Exclusion.

Behav Sci (Basel) 2020 Dec 14;10(12). Epub 2020 Dec 14.

Social Psychology Unit, Institute of Psychology, University of Klagenfurt, 9020 Klagenfurt, Austria.

Research indicates that non-human attachment figures may mitigate the negative consequences of social exclusion. In the current experiment, we examined how the presence of an unfamiliar companion dog in the laboratory effects physiological and behavioral reactions in female emerging adults after social exclusion compared to inclusion. Results revealed the beneficial effects of the dog: Socially excluded participants in the company of a dog showed less aggressive behavior in response to the hot sauce paradigm compared to excluded participants in the control condition. Furthermore, cardiac responses indicated mitigated perception of threat in a subsequent insult episode when a dog was present. The presence of a dog did not impact the most instantaneous, "reflexive" response to the social exclusion as revealed by characteristic cardiac changes. Together, the findings indicate that the presence of a companion dog takes effect in a later, reflective period following a social exclusion experience, which implicates relevant social elaboration and appraisal processes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/bs10120191DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7764974PMC
December 2020

Patients with hip fracture and total hip arthroplasty surgery differ in anthropometric, but not cardiovascular screening abnormalities.

BMC Cardiovasc Disord 2020 12 2;20(1):507. Epub 2020 Dec 2.

Division of Physiology, Otto Loewi Research Center, Medical University of Graz, Neue Stiftingtalstraße 6/D05, 8036, Graz, Austria.

Background: With the rising number of hip surgeries, simple and cost-effective tools for surgery risk assessment are warranted. The analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) may not only provide critical insights into the general frailty of patients with hip surgery, but also allow for better differentiation of health profiles in different hip surgery groups. Using HRV analysis, the present study compared cardiovascular as well as anthropometric parameters between patients with hip surgery, the hip fracture surgery group (HFS) and the total hip arthroplasty group (THA), and a control group.

Methods: 71 participants (56.3% women), aged 60-85 years, took part, divided into three groups-patients after hip surgery (21 HFS and 30 THA patients) and a control group (20 participants). Electrocardiogram was recorded at baseline and after the application of a physical stressor (grip strength). A 3 (group) × 2 (time) repeated measures ANOVA, and a chi square test were carried out to test for group differences.

Results: Higher weight (p = .002), body mass index (p = .001), and systolic blood pressure (p = .034) were found in THA patients compared to HFS patients. Lower calf circumference (p = .009) and diastolic blood pressure (p = .048) were observed for the HFS group compared to the control group. For cardiovascular parameters, significant differences emerged between the HFS group and the control group in HR (p = .005), SDNN (p = .034) and SD2 (p = .012). No significant differences in cardiovascular parameters were observed between the two hip surgery groups: neither at baseline nor during stressor recovery.

Conclusions: While HRV seems to differentiate well between HFS patients and controls, more research with larger samples is needed to scrutinize similaritites and differences in cardiovascular profiles between HFS and THA patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12872-020-01792-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7713041PMC
December 2020

General and Disease-Specific Health Indicator Changes Associated with Inpatient Rehabilitation.

J Am Med Dir Assoc 2020 12 28;21(12):2017.e10-2017.e27. Epub 2020 Jul 28.

Division of Physiology, Otto Loewi Research Center, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria; Human Research Institute, Weiz, Austria.

Objectives: Rehabilitation plays a vital role in the mitigation and improvement of functional limitations associated with aging and chronic conditions. Moderating factors such as sex, age, the medical diagnosis, and rehabilitation timing for admission status, as well as the expected change related to inpatient rehabilitation, are examined to provide a valid basis for the routine assessment of the quality of medical outcomes.

Design: An observational study was carried out, placing a focus on general and disease-specific health measurements, to assess representative results of multidisciplinary inpatient rehabilitation. Aspects that were possibly confounding and introduced bias were controlled based on data from a quasi-experimental (waiting) control group.

Measures: Existing data or general health indicators were extracted from medical records. The indicators included blood pressure, resting heart rate, self-assessed health, and pain, as well as more disease-specific indicators of physical function and performance (eg, activities of daily living, walking tests, blood lipids). These are used to identify moderating factors related to health outcomes.

Setting And Participants: A standardized collection of routine data from 16,966 patients [61.5 ± 12.5 years; 7871 (46%) women, 9095 (54%) men] with different medical diagnoses before and after rehabilitation were summarized using a descriptive evaluation in terms of a content and factor analysis.

Results: Without rehabilitation, general health indicators did not improve independently and remained stable at best [odds ratio (OR) = 0.74], whereas disease-specific indicators improved noticeably after surgery (OR = 3.20). Inpatient rehabilitation was shown to reduce the risk factors associated with certain lifestyles, optimize organ function, and improve well-being in most patients (>70%; cutoff: z-difference >0.20), with a standardized mean difference (SMD) seen in overall medical quality outcome of -0.48 ± 0.37 [pre- vs post-rehabilitation: η = 0.622; d = -1.22; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) -1.24 to -1.19]. The baseline medical values obtained at the beginning of rehabilitation were influenced by indication, age, and sex (all P < .001); however, these factors have less significant effects on improvements in general health indicators (η < 0.01). According to the disease-specific results, the greatest improvements were found in older patients (SMD for patients >60 vs ≤60 years: 95% CI 0.08-0.11) and during the early rehabilitation stage (η = 0.063).

Conclusions And Implications: Compared with those who received no inpatient rehabilitation, patients who received rehabilitation showed greater improvements in 2 independent areas, general and disease-specific health measures, regardless of their diagnosis, age, and sex. Due to the study design and the use of a nonrandomized waiting group, causal conclusions must be drawn with caution. However, the comparability and stability of the presented results strongly support the validity of the observed improvements associated with inpatient rehabilitation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2020.05.034DOI Listing
December 2020

Influences Of Different Dimensions Of Academic Self-Concept On Students' Cardiac Recovery After Giving A Stressful Presentation.

Psychol Res Behav Manag 2019 7;12:1031-1040. Epub 2019 Nov 7.

Educational Psychology Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz 8010, Austria.

Purpose: Giving a presentation in a seminar is a strenuous academic situation. To meet such a challenge adequately, individuals not only have to activate their mental and physical resources, but they also have to disengage from the task and recover once the challenge has been met. How students experience these situations depends in part on how they recover from the stress, and this has putative impact on their longer-term academic well-being.

Methods: In a sample of 68 university students, the present study investigated the impact of four dimensions of students' academic self-concept on how efficiently students recovered after a challenging presentation in a university seminar. Recovery was assessed using psychophysiological measures; heart rate and heart rate variability were investigated. Higher levels of students' social self-concept (self-concept depending on social comparison) were linked to poorer recovery from the challenge, whereas higher levels of absolute self-concept (independent of external criteria) were associated with more efficient recovery.

Results: The findings suggest that a focus on one's own abilities (ie, internal performance standard) is linked to more adaptive patterns of responses to challenging situations, while the focus on social comparisons seems to hamper adaptive coping with academic stress.

Conclusion: These findings have consequences not only for learning and instruction but also for students' health and well-being.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S219784DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6844235PMC
November 2019

Trait positive affect and students' prefrontal EEG alpha asymmetry responses during a simulated exam situation.

Biol Psychol 2019 11 5;148:107762. Epub 2019 Sep 5.

Section of Educational Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Austria.

Affective dispositions may shape students' typical ways of coping when faced with demanding performance situations in their educational lives. We recorded frontal EEG alpha asymmetry responses in psychology students (n = 62) during the course of a scenario designed to simulate a real examination, which required oral explanation of statistical concepts. While students with lower levels of trait positive affect (PANAS) showed relative right hemispheric activation, sustained relative left hemispheric activation was observed in students with higher levels of trait positive affect. In line with relevant models of frontal brain asymmetry, the findings suggest that students' coping behaviors in the context of academic performance situations are in part instantaneously initiated, which is reflected in spontaneous activation of relative approach versus avoidance motivation. Independently of negative affect and momentary affective states, trait positive affectivity seems to be linked to recruitment of brain processes supporting a more adaptive response in that matter.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2019.107762DOI Listing
November 2019

Creative challenge: Regular exercising moderates the association between task-related heart rate variability changes and individual differences in originality.

PLoS One 2019 22;14(7):e0220205. Epub 2019 Jul 22.

Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Coping with mental challenges is vital to everyday functioning. In accordance with prominent theories, the adaptive and flexible adjustment of the organism to daily demands is well expressed in task-related changes of cardiac vagal control. While many mental challenges are associated with increased effort and associated decreased task-related heart rate variability (HRV), some cognitive challenges go along with HRV increases. Especially creativity represents a cognitive process, which not only results from mental effort but also from spontaneous modes of thinking. Critically, creativity and HRV are associated with regular exercising and fitness. Furthermore, the cross-stressor adaptation theory suggests that changes in cardiac reactions to physical challenges may generalize to mental challenges. In line with this idea the amount of regular exercising was hypothesized to moderate the association between HRV changes and creativity. A sample of 97 participants was investigated. They reported the amount of regular exercise and their ECG was measured at baseline and during a creativity task. An association between task-related HRV changes and originality as a function of participants' amount of regular exercise was found. Participants reporting more regular exercising produced more original ideas when they had higher HRV increases during the task, while more sedentary participants showed the opposite association. Results suggest that individuals with a higher amount of regular exercise achieve higher originality probably via the engagement in more spontaneous modes of thinking, while more sedentary people may primarily benefit from increased mental effort. This supports the conclusion that higher creativity can be achieved by different strategies.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0220205PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6645545PMC
February 2020

Disturbed Cardiorespiratory Adaptation in Preeclampsia: Return to Normal Stress Regulation Shortly after Delivery?

Int J Mol Sci 2019 Jun 27;20(13). Epub 2019 Jun 27.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Clinical Center, 9020 Klagenfurt, Austria.

Women with pregnancies complicated by preeclampsia appear to be at increased risk of metabolic and vascular diseases in later life. Previous research has also indicated disturbed cardiorespiratory adaptation during pregnancy. The aim of this study was to follow up on the physiological stress response in preeclampsia several weeks postpartum. A standardized laboratory test was used to illustrate potential deviations in the physiological stress responding to mildly stressful events of the kind and intensity in which they regularly occur in further everyday life after pregnancy. Fifteen to seventeen weeks postpartum, 35 women previously affected by preeclampsia (19 mild, 16 severe preeclampsia), 38 women after uncomplicated pregnancies, and 51 age-matched healthy controls were exposed to a self-relevant stressor in a standardized stress-reactivity protocol. Reactivity of blood pressure, heart rate, stroke index, and systemic vascular resistance index as well as baroreceptor sensitivity were analyzed. In addition, the mutual adjustment of blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, partitioned for influences of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, were quantified by determining their phase synchronization. Findings indicated moderately elevated blood pressure levels in the nonpathological range, reduced stroke volume, and elevated systemic vascular resistance in women previously affected by preeclampsia. Despite these moderate abnormalities, at the time of testing, women with previous preeclampsia did not differ from the other groups in their physiological response patterns to acute stress. Furthermore, no differences between early, preterm, and term preeclampsia or mild and severe preeclampsia were observed at the time of testing. The findings suggest that the overall cardiovascular responses to moderate stressors return to normal in women who experience a pregnancy with preeclampsia a few weeks after delivery, while the operating point of the arterial baroreflex is readjusted to a higher pressure. Yet, their regulation mechanisms may remain different.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijms20133149DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6651868PMC
June 2019

Poor control of interference from negative content hampers the effectiveness of humour as a source of positive emotional experiences.

Sci Rep 2019 05 29;9(1):8023. Epub 2019 May 29.

Section of Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

The brain-based ability to direct attention away from interfering negative information may co-determine to which degree one may benefit from humour as a source of positive emotional experiences. This should be particularly relevant when it comes to humour that implicates a target the joke makes fun of, which inherently entails rivalry between positive and negative emotional representations. One hundred healthy individuals completed a pictorial negative affective priming task and a nonverbal humour processing task. In line with the notion that during the elaborative processing of malicious jokes, interference from negative emotional representations hampers the experience of amusement, participants took more time to judge their amusement evoked by malicious compared to benign jokes. Lesser ability to distract attention from interfering negative emotional representations was associated with slower judgements of amusement following the processing of malicious jokes, as well as with lower amusement ratings. The time it took participants to comprehend the punch-lines was not affected, neither was the immediate, short-lived pleasure after having comprehended the humour, measured by characteristic transient cardiac activation. The findings suggest that the effective use of humour as a source of positive emotional experiences requires the ability to overcome the dark side of typical humour.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44550-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6541656PMC
May 2019

Impact of humor-related communication elements in natural dyadic interactions on interpersonal physiological synchrony.

Psychophysiology 2019 04 10;56(4):e13320. Epub 2019 Jan 10.

Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Evidence suggests that in dyadic conversations some alignment occurs at the physiological level, but relatively little is known about the conditions that may facilitate physiological synchrony of two interlocutors. In the present interdisciplinary study, the impact of specific linguistic features of ongoing dialogues-the use of humor-related communication elements-was examined in 24 male dyads who were meeting for the first time. Heart rate synchrony was quantified using phase synchronization, which reflects the degree of moment-to-moment adjustments that occur between the two persons of a dyad. Comical hypotheticals and verbal amplifiers were identified and quantified using cognitive-linguistic methods of corpus analysis. Additionally, smiles following these communication elements were identified using the Facial Action Coding System. The data showed that the heart rate time series of the two interlocutors were to some extent synchronized in phase, and that the magnitude of this synchronization exceeded what had to be expected by chance. The strength of heart rate synchrony in a dyad was the higher the more comical hypotheticals were produced, independently from how much the two conversation partners were in sum talking to each other. A similar observation was made for verbal amplifiers, but their effect depended on whether they were perceived (and acknowledged by a smile) as humorous. The findings are in line with the more general notion that physiological synchrony may be enhanced by shared experience and suggest that the use of (reciprocated) humor may speed up the building of rapport among communication partners.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13320DOI Listing
April 2019

History of Preeclampsia Adds to the Deleterious Effect of Chronic Stress on the Cardiac Ability to Flexibly Adapt to Challenge.

Front Physiol 2018 3;9:1237. Epub 2018 Sep 3.

Institute of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Preeclampsia, a pregnancy-specific disorder, presents a major health problem during gestation, but is also associated with increased risk for cardiovascular complications in later life. We aimed to investigate whether chronic stress experience and preeclampsia may have additive adverse effects on the cardiac ability to flexibly adapt to challenge, that is, to mount an appropriately vigorous heart rate response to an acute psychological challenge, or whether they may perhaps have synergistic effects (e.g., mutual augmentation of effects). Blunted cardiac responding to challenge has been linked to poor health outcomes in the longer term. Women previously affected by preeclampsia and women after uncomplicated pregnancies were tested 15-17 weeks post-partum in a standardized stress-reactivity protocol, while cardiovascular variables were simultaneously recorded. Changes in heart rate and blood pressure in response to the stressor were analyzed with regard to the effects of history of preeclampsia and chronic stress experience. Findings indicated blunted cardiac responses in women with higher chronic stress experience ( = 0.020) and, independently from that, in women with a history of preeclampsia ( = 0.018), pointing to an additive nature of the effects of preeclampsia and chronic stress on impaired cardiovascular functioning. Consequently, if both are present, a history of preeclampsia may add to the already deleterious effects of the experience of chronic stress. The additive nature of the effects suggests that stress-reducing interventions, albeit they will not eliminate the heightened cardiovascular risk in patients with a history of preeclampsia, may improve their overall prognosis by avoiding further accumulation of risk.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01237DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6129979PMC
September 2018

Goal Orientations and Activation of Approach Versus Avoidance Motivation While Awaiting an Achievement Situation in the Laboratory.

Front Psychol 2018 28;9:1552. Epub 2018 Aug 28.

Educational Psychology Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

While some students try to give their best in an achievement situation, others show disengagement and just want to get the situation over and done with. The present study investigates the role of students' tendencies for approach or avoidance motivation while anticipating tasks and the corresponding activation of the approach/avoidance motivational system as indicated by transient changes of EEG alpha asymmetry. Overall, 62 students (50 female; age: = 23.8, = 3.5) completed a goal orientation questionnaire (learning goals, performance-approach, performance-avoidance, and work avoidance). They joined a laboratory experiment where EEG was recorded during resting condition as well as when students were anticipating tasks. Standard multiple regression analysis showed that higher values on performance-avoidance were related to a higher activation of the approach system whereas higher values on work avoidance were related to a higher activation of the avoidance system. Results question present assumptions about avoidance related goal orientations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01552DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121194PMC
August 2018

Aggressive behavior after social exclusion is linked with the spontaneous initiation of more action-oriented coping immediately following the exclusion episode.

Physiol Behav 2018 10 10;195:142-150. Epub 2018 Aug 10.

Department of Psychology, University of Klagenfurt, Univ.-Strasse 65-67, A-9020 Klagenfurt, Austria. Electronic address:

The experience of social exclusion may provoke prosocial, avoidant, or antisocial (aggressive) behaviors. Multiple situational and personal factors seem to affect which course of action people adopt, and to which degree. The present study examined the relevance of the most spontaneous initiation of more passive, avoidant (disengagement) or action-oriented (engagement) coping immediately following a social exclusion experience to subsequent aggressive behavior. In a sample of n = 85 healthy female students, an ostensible discussion group excluded (versus included) the participant on the basis of her personal traits and preferences. The dynamics of heart rate changes immediately following the social exclusion episode yielded information on the most spontaneous preparation for passive, avoidant coping (sustained heart rate deceleration, indicating temporary behavioral inhibition and vigilance, "freezing") or action-oriented coping (heart rate acceleration, indicating mobilization for action, "fighting"). Aggressive tendencies following social exclusion were assessed using the hot sauce paradigm. On average, social exclusion was followed by heart rate deceleration, indicating the spontaneous drive to avoid directly dealing with the threat (F(time by condition) = 3.3, p = .017, η = 0.038). A less pronounced cardiac slowing or even accelerative response to the exclusion, however, was associated with more subsequent aggressive behavior (r = 0.35, p = .023). The results indicate that individual differences in exclusion-related antisocial responding are in part already initiated instantaneously following the exclusion experience, before conscious interpretation and regulation efforts can take effect and modulate the behavioral outcome. The findings point to a potentially important factor that, in concert with other determinants, may explain interindividual differences in changes of social behavior following the experience of social exclusion.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.08.001DOI Listing
October 2018

Laughter as a social rejection cue: Influence of prior explicit experience of social rejection on cardiac signs of "freezing".

Int J Psychophysiol 2018 06 28;128:1-6. Epub 2018 Mar 28.

Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, University of Graz, Austria. Electronic address:

The study aimed at investigating the immediate cardiac effect of the sudden perception of other people's laughter after experimentally manipulating healthy participants' proneness to experience laughter as a cue of social threat. We expected that participants would show cardiac signs of freezing (i.e., sustained heart rate deceleration immediately after perception of the laughter) after prior social rejection but not or less so after prior acceptance, due to an increased bias to perceive the ambiguous social signal as a cue of social threat and rejection after rejection had been primed. Contrary to expectations, the perception of other people's laughter elicited a decelerative (freezing) response regardless of whether it was preceded by the experience of social rejection or acceptance. The response was prolonged in participants who had been accepted beforehand compared to those who had been rejected. The findings indicate that, given a relevant social context, other people's laughter can be a powerful cue of social threat and rejection also in healthy individuals. Prolonged heart rate deceleration after an ambiguous social signal may facilitate the processing of significant social information in the socially threatening situation. The study adds to the literature rendering the course of the immediate transient heart rate response a useful tool in social rejection research. Additionally, the findings suggested that in some cases the further progress of transient heart rate changes in more extended time-windows (about 30 s) may provide additional relevant information about the processing of social cues.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2018.03.022DOI Listing
June 2018

DSM-5 personality trait domains and withdrawal versus approach motivational tendencies in response to the perception of other people's desperation and angry aggression.

Biol Psychol 2018 02 27;132:106-115. Epub 2017 Nov 27.

Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, University of Graz, Austria.

Expressions of affect communicate social messages, which trigger approach and withdrawal/avoidance motivational tendencies in the observer. The present study investigated relationships between inter-individual differences in the motivational responses to other people's affect expressions and DSM-5 personality trait domains. State-dependent, transient EEG alpha asymmetry responses provided indicators of the relative activation of withdrawal versus approach motivation in the respective social-emotional contexts. The Personality Inventory for the DSM-5 (PID-5) was used for the assessment of personality traits in a non-clinical sample. Individuals with higher levels of Antagonism showed relative activation of approach versus withdrawal motivation (as indicated by less relative right frontal activation) in response to confrontation with auditory expressions of angry aggression, whereas participants with higher levels of Detachment showed relative activation of withdrawal versus approach motivation (as indicated by greater relative right frontal activation) to the perception of other people's desperate crying.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.11.010DOI Listing
February 2018

[Cognitive impairments accompanying the burnout syndrome - a review].

Neuropsychiatr 2017 Mar 1;31(1):24-31. Epub 2017 Mar 1.

Therapiezentrum Justuspark BVA, Bad Hall, Linzer Straße 7, 4540, Bad Hall, Österreich.

Background: The rising prevalence of the burnout syndrome has increasingly moved it into the focus of scientific interest. In addition to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, particularly reduced personal accomplishment has strong societal and economic effects. In recent years reduced personal accomplishment has increasingly been linked to cognitive impairment. However, up to now only a few studies have objectively assessed cognitive deficits in burnout patients. This article gives an overview of 16 studies which examined cognitive abilities in burnout patients. The findings are partly contradictory, probably due to methodical differences. Consensus has emerged concerning impairments of executive functions, i.a. vigilance, and memory updating and monitoring. Multifactorial causation may underlie the cognitive impairments.

Outlook: Targeted longitudinal studies are necessary in order to identify the affected cognitive functions and be able to make causal inferences on links between the burnout syndrome and specific cognitive impairments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40211-017-0217-2DOI Listing
March 2017

Psychophysiological Effects of a Single, Short, and Moderately Bright Room Light Exposure on Mildly Depressed Geriatric Inpatients: A Pilot Study.

Gerontology 2017 20;63(4):308-317. Epub 2017 Jan 20.

Bartenbach GmbH, Aldrans, Austria.

Background: Light interventions typically exert their mood-related effects during morning bright light exposures over several weeks. Evidence about immediate ambient room light effects on depressed individuals is still sparse.

Objective: The present study aimed at examining the acute effects of a single moderately bright room light exposure on mood, and behavioural and cardiac stress reactions of mildly depressed geriatric inpatients during a short cognitive stimulation and while resting.

Methods: Twenty-one inpatients were tested in a balanced cross-over design on 2 consecutive days under either conventional room light (standard light) or artificial sunlight conditions for 30 min. Room illumination was implemented with an artificial skylight, which perfectly imitated solar indoor illumination (e.g., cloudless sky and bright artificial sun). Light-induced changes of mood, heart rate, and heart rate variability were recorded while performing a perseveration test (acted as cognitive stimulation) twice. Additionally, light-related behaviour was observed during a resting period between the cognitive tests and various subjective ratings were obtained.

Results: Compared to standard light, exposure to artificial sunlight had a subjective calming effect over time (p = 0.029) as well as decreased heart rate and increased vagal tone (root mean squared of successive inter-beat intervals), both under cognitive workload and in resting conditions. Effect sizes of reported cardiac reactions were large. Cognitive variables were not influenced by light. Additionally, under the higher corneal illuminance of the artificial sunlight, patients perceived stronger glare (p = 0.030) and kept their eyes closed for longer times (p = 0.033) during the resting period. However, patients did not avoid bright light exposure while resting but voluntarily stayed within the area directly lit by the artificial sun nearly all the time (97%).

Conclusion: To our knowledge, this study for the first time demonstrated immediate psychophysiological effects of a single, short room light exposure in mildly depressed geriatric inpatients during a short cognitive stimulation and while resting. The findings complement reported evidence on immediate alerting and mood-related effects of bright light exposures.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000455231DOI Listing
April 2018

Creative ways to well-being: Reappraisal inventiveness in the context of anger-evoking situations.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2017 02;17(1):94-105

Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Neuroscientific studies in the field of creativity mainly focused on tasks drawing on basic verbal divergent thinking demands. This study took a step further by investigating brain mechanisms in response to other types of creative behavior, involving more "real-life" creativity demands in the context of emotion regulation and well-being. Specifically, functional patterns of EEG alpha activity were investigated while participants were required to generate as many and as different ways as possible to reappraise presented anger-eliciting situations in a manner that reduces their anger. Cognitive reappraisal involves some of the same cognitive processes as in conventional verbal creativity tasks, inasmuch as it requires an individual to inhibit or disengage from an emotional event, to shift attention between different perspectives, and to flexibly adopt new solutions. To examine whether alpha oscillations during cognitive reappraisal are different from those during conventional creative ideation, the EEG was also assessed during performance of the Alternative Uses task, requiring individuals to generate as many and as original uses of an object as possible. While cognitive reappraisal was associated with a similar pattern of alpha power as observed in conventional verbal creative ideation, the former yielded significantly stronger alpha power increases at prefrontal sites, along with lower alpha increases at more posterior cortical sites, indicating higher cognitive control and less spontaneous imaginative thought processes in the generation of effective strategies to regulate an ongoing negative emotional state.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-016-0465-9DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5272882PMC
February 2017

The capacity for generating cognitive reappraisals is reflected in asymmetric activation of frontal brain regions.

Brain Imaging Behav 2017 04;11(2):577-590

Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Encouraging patients to use cognitive reappraisal constitutes the core of modern psychotherapeutic approaches. However, evidence for specific neural correlates of the capacity for cognitive reappraisal, which is a necessary prerequisite for the effective implementation of cognitive reappraisal in everyday life, has been sparse to date. In the present study, the capacity for cognitive reappraisal was studied in terms of the participants' inventiveness in generating alternative appraisals of anger-evoking events, and was correlated with frontal EEG alpha asymmetry recorded while the participants were generating reappraisals as well as during a common creative idea generation task. During cognitive reappraisal efforts, individuals higher on the capacity for generating cognitive reappraisals showed more left-lateralized activity in lateral prefrontal cortex, specifically in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex extending toward the frontal pole. This effect was observed independently from the activation during novel idea generation without emotional component, indicating that specific demands are implicated in the generation of reappraisals of emotional events. Taken together, the results indicate that individuals higher on the capacity for cognitive reappraisal are more capable or more prone to recruit appropriate brain regions when the situation demands coming up with alternative appraisals of stressful events. The findings may stimulate the development of more individually targeted interventions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11682-016-9537-2DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5408052PMC
April 2017

Academic Goal Orientation and Cardiovascular Reactivity in a Performance Situation.

Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2015 Sep;40(3):189-200

Institute of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

The present study investigated whether students' academic goal orientation (learning goals, performance goals, work avoidance) and their individual competence beliefs (their academic self-concept) can predict motivation-related cardiovascular activation patterns in a demanding performance situation. A sample of seventy-two undergraduate students rated their academic goal orientation as well as their competence beliefs and completed a mental arithmetic task. Heart rate (HR), blood pressure, pre-ejection period (PEP) as well as cardiac output (CO) and total peripheral resistance were monitored continuously during rest and task exposure. Students scoring higher on work avoidance showed smaller increases in HR and CO, and a smaller shortening of the PEP. A lower academic self-concept was associated with attenuated CO reactivity and a smaller shortening of the PEP. Learning and performance goals were unrelated to cardiovascular activity. The attenuated cardiac activity observed for work avoidance and competence beliefs was interpreted in terms of reduced task engagement resulting from lower success importance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10484-015-9287-8DOI Listing
September 2015

Influence of bed rest on plasma galanin and adrenomedullin at presyncope.

Eur J Clin Invest 2015 Jul 15;45(7):679-85. Epub 2015 Jun 15.

Gravitational Physiology and Medicine research unit, Institute of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Background: The role of hormones in reduced orthostatic tolerance following long-term immobilization remains uncertain. We have previously shown that plasma concentrations of adrenomedullin and galanin, two peptides with vasodepressor properties, rise significantly during orthostatic challenge. We tested the hypothesis that bedrest immobilization increases the rise in adrenomedullin and galanin during orthostatic challenge leading to presyncope.

Materials And Methods: We measured baseline (supine), presyncope and recovery (10 min postpresyncope, supine) levels of adrenomedullin and galanin in 8 healthy men, before and after 21 days of -6° head-down bed rest (HDBR). Presyncope was elicited using a combined head-up tilt and graded lower body negative pressure protocol. Orthostatic tolerance was defined as the time taken from the commencement of head-up tilt to the development of presyncope.

Results: Orthostatic tolerance time after HDBR reduced by 8·36 ± 5·39 min (P = 0·0032). HDBR increased plasma adrenomedullin concentration to orthostatic challenge (P = 0·0367). Compared to pre-HDBR, a significant rise in post-HDBR presyncopal (P < 0·001) and recovery adrenomedullin concentration (P < 0·01) was demonstrated. In contrast, we observed no change in pre- and post-HDBR galanin levels to orthostatic challenge.

Conclusions: Bedrest immobilization appears to affect adrenomedullin levels in that greater increases in adrenomedullin occur at presyncope following bedrest immobilization. Due to its peripheral vasculature hypotensive effect, the greater levels of adrenomedullin at presyncope following bedrest immobilization may have contributed to the reduced orthostatic capacity postbedrest.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/eci.12455DOI Listing
July 2015

Prefrontal EEG alpha asymmetry changes while observing disaster happening to other people: cardiac correlates and prediction of emotional impact.

Biol Psychol 2014 Dec 16;103:184-94. Epub 2014 Sep 16.

Institute of Physiology, Medical University, Graz, Austria.

Changes of EEG alpha asymmetry in terms of increased right versus left sided activity in prefrontal cortex are considered to index activation of the withdrawal/avoidance motivational system. The present study aimed to add evidence of the validity of individual differences in the EEG alpha asymmetry response and their relevance regarding the impact of emotional events. The magnitude of the EEG alpha asymmetry response while watching a film consisting of scenes of real injury and death correlated with components of transient cardiac responses to sudden horrifying events happening to persons in the film which index withdrawal/avoidance motivation and heightened attention and perceptual intake. Additionally, it predicted greater mood deterioration following the film and film-related intrusive memories and avoidance over the following week. The study provides further evidence for prefrontal EEG alpha asymmetry changes in response to relevant stimuli reflecting an individual's sensitivity to negative social-emotional cues encountered in everyday life.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.09.001DOI Listing
December 2014

Laughter as a social rejection cue: gelotophobia and transient cardiac responses to other persons' laughter and insult.

Psychophysiology 2014 Nov 1;51(11):1112-21. Epub 2014 Jul 1.

Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, University of Graz, Graz, Austria.

Other persons' laughter, normally perceived as a signal that persons are friendly and inviting others to approach, can also be perceived as a cue of social rejection. In this study, prerecorded laughter was placed in a realistic and personally relevant context, and participants' responses were related to gelotophobia, a trait predisposing to perceiving laughter as a cue of social rejection. Individuals with gelotophobia showed marked heart rate deceleration in response to the laughter stimulus, possibly indicating a "freezing-like" response. Moreover, cardiac responses to anger provocation by overtly insulting statements indicated heightened aggressive anger in response to cumulated social threat. The study adds to recent research showing specific cardiac responses to social rejection and to the literature on social rejection sensitivity by demonstrating the value of using well interpretable physiological measures in this research context.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12259DOI Listing
November 2014

Cardiovascular effects of acute positive emotional arousal.

Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2014 Mar;39(1):9-18

Biological Psychology Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Universitaetsplatz 2/DG, 8010, Graz, Austria,

Since there are several popular beliefs about putative health benefits of amusement which are empirically substantiated poorly about putative health benefits of amusement, the immediate cardiovascular effects of amusement were studied in detail. Cardiovascular activity was studied while participants were viewing humorous films, relative to a control condition involving no amusement. High-resolution measures of heart rate, heart rate variability, continuous blood pressure, and respiration were recorded, and the phase synchronization among the variables was analyzed, which provides information on the coordinated behavior of response systems. Viewing humorous films had cardiovascular effects indicating heightened sympathetic arousal, if they elicited intense amusement. No effects were observed for variables indicating parasympathetic input to the heart. The observed effects associated with amusement were not driven by changes in the respiration. The suppression of positive affect expressions did not produce any additional activation. The transient cardiovascular effects of amusement do not correspond to beneficial correlates of a habitual positive affect disposition reported in the literature, demonstrating that it would be erroneous to argue from the long-term effects of a positive affect disposition to the effects of a single amusing event.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10484-013-9235-4DOI Listing
March 2014

I got it! Transient cardiovascular response to the perception of humor.

Biol Psychol 2013 Apr 1;93(1):33-40. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

Institute of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, Austria.

The aim of the present study was to examine the transient cardiovascular response to the perception of humor, that is, the impact of the cognitive process of insight as well as the modulation of the response by the affective appraisal of the humor. To this end transient heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output, and blood pressure responses were obtained in the immediate context of detecting the punch line in cartoons. Fine-grained analysis of the transient behavior of cardiovascular variables during viewing the cartoons was contrasted to non-humorous cartoon-like pictures. The detection of a punch line was accompanied by relative heart rate acceleration in conjunction with increased cardiac output, which was more pronounced the more amusing the cartoons were perceived. These results provide first evidence of the usefulness of cardiovascular variables for detecting the moment of insight and the quantification of the size of the emotional response accompanying it.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.01.014DOI Listing
April 2013

Frontal brain asymmetry and transient cardiovascular responses to the perception of humor.

Biol Psychol 2013 Apr 26;93(1):114-21. Epub 2012 Dec 26.

Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, Karl-Franzens University, Graz, Austria.

The study examined the relationship of individual differences in prefrontal brain asymmetry, measured by the EEG in resting conditions, to the individual's responsivity in the context of humor (n=42). Several weeks after the EEG recording, immediate cardiovascular responses to the perception of humor and behavioral indicators of humor processing were obtained in an experimental paradigm involving non-verbal cartoons. Relatively greater resting activity in the left than right prefrontal cortex, particularly at the ventrolateral positions, was associated with faster detection of humor, a more pronounced cardiac response to the perception of humor (heart rate and cardiac output), and more accessible internal positive affective states (indicated by faster reports of amusement levels). The study confirms and extends findings of the relevance of prefrontal brain asymmetry to affective responsivity, contributing evidence in the domain of positive affect and humor, and demonstrating relationships to the immediate cardiovascular response pattern to an emotional event.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.12.004DOI Listing
April 2013
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