CORRELATION BETWEEN BEHAVIOR AND AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM ACTIVATION IN CHILDREN EXPOSED TO A FRUSTRATING STIMULUS

Open Access
Author:
Tobash, Kaitlin Marie
Area of Honors:
Biology
Degree:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Wade Schaeffer, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Michelle Kopp, Thesis Supervisor
  • Bernhard Luscher, Faculty Reader
Keywords:
  • frustration
  • autonomic nervous system
  • parasympathetic nervous system
  • sympathetic nervous system
Abstract:
Children who encounter a frustrating stimulus experience both behavioral and physiological responses. The natural response to frustration can be characterized by aggression and panic that is designed to allow the individual to engage in a behavioral response to overcome whatever is frustrating them (Stifter et al., 1993). This is diminished over time as the result of socialization influences and the development of behavioral inhibition and arousal regulation skills. A physiological response to frustration also occurs which typically takes the form of parasympathetic activity suppression and sympathetic activation (Porges, 2001). This is the synchronous autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to a challenging stimulus and is expected to be associated with appropriate inhibition control and arousal regulation skills. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the correlation between ANS activity and behavior in response to a frustrating stimulus. Children completed a go or no-go task designed to induce frustration and physiological measures of electro-dermal activity (EDA) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were collected throughout the task period. These physiological measures were compared with behavioral data taken from questionnaires completed by the children’s teachers and the research assistants administering the test. Results from this study showed a correlation between RSA suppression and EDA activation only in children who had not been previously identified as aggressive. It was also found that synchronous ANS response to a frustrating stimulus was positively correlated with inhibitory control behaviors. These results demonstrate that it is important to study the ANS as a whole and to examine the relationship between parasympathetic and sympathetic activity in response to a frustrating stimulus. The interaction between the two systems appeared to be a better predictor of behavioral response that either system independently. Future research in the area of behavior and ANS responsivity is needed. This future research should examine both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems concurrently.