Publications by authors named "James A J Heathers"

18 Publications

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How Podcasts Can Benefit Scientific Communities.

Trends Cogn Sci 2021 01 3;25(1):3-5. Epub 2020 Nov 3.

Bouve College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA; Cipher Skin, Denver, CO, USA.

Podcasts are emerging as popular fora for discussing science. Here, we describe how podcasts can benefit scientific communities by disseminating career-specific information that is often unwritten and hidden to those outside academic social knowledge networks. We also provide practical advice on how scientists can launch their own podcasts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.10.003DOI Listing
January 2021

Cortical thickness and resting-state cardiac function across the lifespan: A cross-sectional pooled mega-analysis.

Psychophysiology 2020 Oct 10. Epub 2020 Oct 10.

Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

Understanding the association between autonomic nervous system [ANS] function and brain morphology across the lifespan provides important insights into neurovisceral mechanisms underlying health and disease. Resting-state ANS activity, indexed by measures of heart rate [HR] and its variability [HRV] has been associated with brain morphology, particularly cortical thickness [CT]. While findings have been mixed regarding the anatomical distribution and direction of the associations, these inconsistencies may be due to sex and age differences in HR/HRV and CT. Previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes, which impede the assessment of sex differences and aging effects on the association between ANS function and CT. To overcome these limitations, 20 groups worldwide contributed data collected under similar protocols of CT assessment and HR/HRV recording to be pooled in a mega-analysis (N = 1,218 (50.5% female), mean age 36.7 years (range: 12-87)). Findings suggest a decline in HRV as well as CT with increasing age. CT, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex, explained additional variance in HRV, beyond the effects of aging. This pattern of results may suggest that the decline in HRV with increasing age is related to a decline in orbitofrontal CT. These effects were independent of sex and specific to HRV; with no significant association between CT and HR. Greater CT across the adult lifespan may be vital for the maintenance of healthy cardiac regulation via the ANS-or greater cardiac vagal activity as indirectly reflected in HRV may slow brain atrophy. Findings reveal an important association between CT and cardiac parasympathetic activity with implications for healthy aging and longevity that should be studied further in longitudinal research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13688DOI Listing
October 2020

An analysis of stereotypical motor movements and cardiovascular coupling in individuals on the autism spectrum.

Biol Psychol 2019 03 12;142:90-99. Epub 2019 Jan 12.

Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA.

One of the core diagnostic features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is engagement in stereotypical motor movements, although the etiology of this repetitive behavior is unknown. Since the 1960s, it has been hypothesized that stereotypical motor movements serve a homeostatic regulation function, and thereby a putative coupling mechanism to cardiovascular arousal. However, to date, surprisingly few reports explicitly assess cardio-somatic coupling and stereotypical motor movements. The present exploratory study investigates coupling of stereotypical body rocking and hand flapping to heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) in a convenience sample (n = 10) of children and young adults with moderate to profound ASD. Motor movements were recorded via video and three-axis accelerometry, and simultaneous electrocardiographic signals were obtained to determine cardiovascular indices at or around the onset of naturalistically occurring stereotypy. Analysis of the heart rate revealed both repetitive body rocking and hand flapping in particular were found to associate with a strikingly similar cardiovascular pattern of acceleration and deceleration unrelated to physical demands associated with the movements themselves. Furthermore, neither type of stereotypical movement provoked directional change in heart rate variability. The implications of these results and opportunities for future research are discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2019.01.004DOI Listing
March 2019

The voluntary control of piloerection.

PeerJ 2018 30;6:e5292. Epub 2018 Jul 30.

Bouve College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, United States of America.

Autonomic nervous systems in the human body are named for their operation outside of conscious control. One rare exception is voluntarily generated piloerection (VGP)-the conscious ability to induce goosebumps-whose physiological study, to our knowledge, is confined to three single-individual case studies. Very little is known about the physiological nature and emotional correlates of this ability. The current manuscript assesses physiological, emotional, and personality phenomena associated with VGP in a sample of thirty-two individuals. Physiological descriptions obtained from the sample are consistent with previous reports, including stereotypical patterns of sensation and action. Most participants also reported that their VGP accompanies psychological states associated with affective states (e.g., awe) and experience (e.g., listening to music), and higher than typical openness to new experiences. These preliminary findings suggest that this rare and unusual physiological ability interacts with emotional and personality factors, and thus merits further study.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5292DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6071615PMC
July 2018

Worry is associated with robust reductions in heart rate variability: a transdiagnostic study of anxiety psychopathology.

BMC Psychol 2016 Jun 3;4(1):32. Epub 2016 Jun 3.

School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.

Background: Individuals with anxiety disorders display reduced resting-state heart rate variability (HRV), although findings have been contradictory and the role of specific symptoms has been less clear. It is possible that HRV reductions may transcend diagnostic categories, consistent with dimensional-trait models of psychopathology. Here we investigated whether anxiety disorders or symptoms of anxiety, stress, worry and depression are more strongly associated with resting-state HRV.

Methods: Resting-state HRV was calculated in participants with clinical anxiety (n = 25) and healthy controls (n = 58). Symptom severity measures of worry, anxiety, stress, and depression were also collected from participants, regardless of diagnosis.

Results: Participants who fulfilled DSM-IV criteria for an anxiety disorder displayed diminished HRV, a difference at trend level significance (p = .1, Hedges' g = -.37, BF10 = .84). High worriers (Total n = 41; n = 22 diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and n = 19 not meeting criteria for any psychopathology) displayed a robust reduction in resting state HRV relative to low worriers (p = .001, Hedges' g = -.75, BF10 = 28.16).

Conclusions: The specific symptom of worry - not the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder - was associated with the most robust reductions in HRV, indicating that HRV may provide a transdiagnostic biomarker of worry. These results enhance understanding of the relationship between the cardiac autonomic nervous system and anxiety psychopathology, providing support for dimensional-trait models consistent with the Research Domain Criteria framework.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40359-016-0138-zDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4891851PMC
June 2016

The Elusory Upward Spiral: A Reanalysis of Kok et al. (2013).

Psychol Sci 2015 Jul 29;26(7):1140-3. Epub 2015 May 29.

Psychology Department, University of Florida Psychology and Counseling Program, Goddard College.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797615572908DOI Listing
July 2015

Young children's affective responses to another's distress: dynamic and physiological features.

PLoS One 2015 13;10(4):e0121735. Epub 2015 Apr 13.

School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; School of Education, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia.

Two descriptive studies set out a new approach for exploring the dynamic features of children's affective responses (sadness and interest-worry) to another's distress. In two samples (N(study1) = 75; N(study2) = 114), Kindergarten children were shown a video-vignette depicting another child in distress and the temporal pattern of spontaneous expressions were examined across the unfolding vignette. Results showed, in both study 1 and 2, that sadness and interest-worry had distinct patterns of elicitation across the events of the vignette narrative and there was little co-occurrence of these affects within a given child. Temporal heart rate changes (study 2) were closely aligned to the events of the vignette and, furthermore, affective responses corresponded to distinctive physiological response profiles. The implications of distinct temporal patterns of elicitation for the meaning of sadness and interest-worry are discussed within the framework of emotion regulation and empathy.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121735PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4395218PMC
April 2016

Considerations in the assessment of heart rate variability in biobehavioral research.

Front Psychol 2014 22;5:805. Epub 2014 Jul 22.

School of Psychology, University of Sydney Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to various methods of assessing the beat-to-beat variation in the heart over time, in order to draw inference on the outflow of the autonomic nervous system. Easy access to measuring HRV has led to a plethora of studies within emotion science and psychology assessing autonomic regulation, but significant caveats exist due to the complicated nature of HRV. Firstly, both breathing and blood pressure regulation have their own relationship to social, emotional, and cognitive experiments - if this is the case are we observing heart rate (HR) changes as a consequence of breathing changes? Secondly, experiments often have poor internal and external controls. In this review we highlight the interrelationships between HR and respiration, as well as presenting recommendations for researchers to use when collecting data for HRV assessment. Namely, we highlight the superior utility of within-subjects designs along with the importance of establishing an appropriate baseline and monitoring respiration.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00805DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106423PMC
August 2014

Everything Hertz: methodological issues in short-term frequency-domain HRV.

Front Physiol 2014 7;5:177. Epub 2014 May 7.

Psychophysiology Group, Department of Psychology, University of Sydney Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Frequency analysis of the electrocardiographic RR interval is a common method of quantifying autonomic outflow by measuring the beat-to-beat modulation of the heart (heart rate variability; HRV). This review identifies a series of problems with the methods of doing so-the interpretation of low-frequency spectral power, the multiple use of equivalent normalized low frequency (LFnu), high frequency (HFnu) and ratio (LF/HF) terms, and the lack of control over extraneous variables, and reviews research in the calendar year 2012 to determine their prevalence and severity. Results support the mathematical equivalency of ratio units across studies, a reliance on those variables to explain autonomic outflow, and insufficient control of critical experimental variables. Research measurement of HRV has a substantial need for general methodological improvement.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00177DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019878PMC
June 2014

Mindfulness meditation, well-being, and heart rate variability: a preliminary investigation into the impact of intensive Vipassana meditation.

Int J Psychophysiol 2013 Sep 22;89(3):305-13. Epub 2013 Jun 22.

SCAN Research & Teaching Unit, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Australia; School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Australia.

Mindfulness meditation has beneficial effects on brain and body, yet the impact of Vipassana, a type of mindfulness meditation, on heart rate variability (HRV) - a psychophysiological marker of mental and physical health - is unknown. We hypothesised increases in measures of well-being and HRV, and decreases in ill-being after training in Vipassana compared to before (time effects), during the meditation task compared to resting baseline (task effects), and a time by task interaction with more pronounced differences between tasks after Vipassana training. HRV (5-minute resting baseline vs. 5-minute meditation) was collected from 36 participants before and after they completed a 10-day intensive Vipassana retreat. Changes in three frequency-domain measures of HRV were analysed using 2 (Time; pre- vs. post-Vipassana)× 2 (Task; resting baseline vs. meditation) within subjects ANOVA. These measures were: normalised high-frequency power (HF n.u.), a widely used biomarker of parasympathetic activity; log-transformed high frequency power (ln HF), a measure of RSA and required to interpret normalised HF; and Traube-Hering-Mayer waves (THM), a component of the low frequency spectrum linked to baroreflex outflow. As expected, participants showed significantly increased well-being, and decreased ill-being. ln HF increased overall during meditation compared to resting baseline, while there was a time∗task interaction for THM. Further testing revealed that pre-Vipassana only ln HF increased during meditation (vs. resting baseline), consistent with a change in respiration. Post-Vipassana, the meditation task increased HF n.u. and decreased THM compared to resting baseline, suggesting post-Vipassana task-related changes are characterised by a decrease in absolute LF power, not parasympathetic-mediated increases in HF power. Such baroreflex changes are classically associated with attentional load, and our results are interpreted in light of the concept of 'flow' - a state of positive and full immersion in an activity. These results are also consistent with changes in normalised HRV reported in other meditation studies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.06.017DOI Listing
September 2013

Smartphone-enabled pulse rate variability: an alternative methodology for the collection of heart rate variability in psychophysiological research.

Int J Psychophysiol 2013 Sep 8;89(3):297-304. Epub 2013 Jun 8.

The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address:

Heart rate variability (HRV) is widely used to assess autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. It is traditionally collected from a dedicated laboratory electrocardiograph (ECG). This presents a barrier to collecting the large samples necessary to maintain the statistical power of between-subject psychophysiological comparisons. An alternative to ECG involves an optical pulse sensor or photoplethysmograph run from a smartphone or similar portable device: smartphone pulse rate variability (SPRV). Experiment 1 determined the simultaneous accuracy between ECG and SPRV systems in n = 10 participants at rest. Raw SPRV values showed a consistent positive bias, which was successfully attenuated with correction. Experiment 2 tested an additional n = 10 participants at rest, during attentional load, and during mild stress (exercise). Accuracy was maintained, but slightly attenuated during exercise. The best correction method maintained an accuracy of +/-2% for low-frequency spectral power, and +/-5% for high-frequency spectral power over all points. Thus, the SPRV system records a pulse-to-pulse approximation of an ECG-derived heart rate series that is sufficiently accurate to perform time- and frequency-domain analysis of its variability, as well as accurately reflecting change in autonomic output provided by typical psychophysiological stimuli. This represents a novel method by which an accurate approximation of HRV may be collected for large-sample or naturalistic cardiac psychophysiological research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.05.017DOI Listing
September 2013

The last word.

Exp Physiol 2013 Jan;98(1):348

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.2012.070144DOI Listing
January 2013

Blood volume pulse (BVP) derived vagal tone (VT) between 5 and 7 years of age: a methodological investigation of measurement and longitudinal stability.

Dev Psychobiol 2014 Jan 5;56(1):23-35. Epub 2012 Nov 5.

School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

The present study evaluated the possibility of collecting cardiac vagal tone data using a photoplethysmograph, and its stability and continuity in a longitudinal sample of early-school aged children. A method for the optical (i.e., blood volume pulse) estimation of heart rate was established in a pilot study. Then the longitudinal stability and continuity in photoplethysmograph-derived vagal tone was assessed in 114 children (56 girls) at three sessions between 5 and 7 years of age. Results indicate that this method possesses substantial measurement reliability and individual stability, as children report low intra-individual variation over time. Children also report a mean decrease in vagal tone from 5 to 7 years of age, consistent with increased attentional capacity. Overall, this suggests blood volume pulse estimation of vagal tone is both accurate and appropriate for naturalistic developmental research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/dev.21088DOI Listing
January 2014

Matter over mind: a randomised-controlled trial of single-session biofeedback training on performance anxiety and heart rate variability in musicians.

PLoS One 2012 4;7(10):e46597. Epub 2012 Oct 4.

SCAN Research & Teaching Unit, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.

Background: Musical performance is a skilled activity performed under intense pressure, thus is often a profound source of anxiety. In other contexts, anxiety and its concomitant symptoms of sympathetic nervous system arousal have been successfully ameliorated with HRV biofeedback (HRV BF), a technique involving slow breathing which augments autonomic and emotional regulatory capacity.

Objective: This randomised-controlled study explored the impact of a single 30-minute session of HRV BF on anxiety in response to a highly stressful music performance.

Methods: A total of 46 trained musicians participated in this study and were randomly allocated to a slow breathing with or without biofeedback or no-treatment control group. A 3 Group×2 Time mixed experimental design was employed to compare the effect of group before and after intervention on performance anxiety (STAI-S) and frequency domain measures of HRV.

Results: Slow breathing groups (n=30) showed significantly greater improvements in high frequency (HF) and LF/HF ratio measures of HRV relative to control (n=15) during 5 minute recordings of performance anticipation following the intervention (effect size: η(2) =0.122 and η(2) =0.116, respectively). The addition of biofeedback to a slow breathing protocol did not produce differential results. While intervention groups did not exhibit an overall reduction in self-reported anxiety, participants with high baseline anxiety who received the intervention (n=15) displayed greater reductions in self-reported state anxiety relative to those in the control condition (n=7) (r=0.379).

Conclusions: These findings indicate that a single session of slow breathing, regardless of biofeedback, is sufficient for controlling physiological arousal in anticipation of psychosocial stress associated with music performance and that slow breathing is particularly helpful for musicians with high levels of anxiety. Future research is needed to further examine the effects of HRV BF as a low-cost, non-pharmacological treatment for music performance anxiety.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0046597PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3464298PMC
June 2013

Homeopathy and heart rate variability: concerns and issues.

J Altern Complement Med 2011 Dec 21;17(12):1095. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/acm.2011.0581DOI Listing
December 2011

Vibration training and body fat: a comment on Artero et al. (2011).

Eur J Appl Physiol 2012 Jun 29;112(6):2381-2. Epub 2011 Sep 29.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2179-6DOI Listing
June 2012