Extinction Learning as a Potential Mechanism Linking High Vagal Tone with Lower PTSD Symptoms among Abused Youth

Citation:

Jenness, J. L., Miller, A. B., Rosen, M. L., & McLaughlin, K. A. (2018). Extinction Learning as a Potential Mechanism Linking High Vagal Tone with Lower PTSD Symptoms among Abused Youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
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Date Published:

aug

Abstract:

Childhood abuse is a potent risk factor for psychopathology, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research has shown high resting vagal tone, a measure of parasympathetic nervous system function, protects abused youth from developing internalizing psychopathology, but potential mechanisms explaining this effect are unknown. We explored fear extinction learning as a possible mechanism underlying the protective effect of vagal tone on PTSD symptoms among abused youth. We measured resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and skin conductance responses (SCR) during a fear conditioning and extinction task in youth with variability in abuse exposure (N = 94; aged 6-18 years). High RSA predicted lower PTSD symptoms and enhanced extinction learning among abused youths. In a moderated-mediation model, extinction learning mediated the association of abuse with PTSD symptoms only among youth with high RSA. These findings highlight extinction learning as a possible mechanism linking high vagal tone to decreased risk for PTSD symptoms among abused youth.

Last updated on 09/27/2018