Paediatrics Publications

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Journal of Psychophysiology





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Parent behaviors strongly predict child responses to acute pain; less studied are the factors shaping parent behaviors. Heart rate variability (HRV) is considered a physiological correlate of emotional responding. Resting or "trait" HRV is indicative of the capacity for emotion regulation, while momentary changes or "state" HRV is reflective of current emotion regulatory efforts. This study aimed to examine: (1) parent state HRV as a contributor to parent verbal behaviors before and during child pain and (2) parent trait HRV as a moderator between parent emotional states (anxiety, catastrophizing) and parent behaviors. Children 7-12 years of age completed the cold pressor task (CPT) in the presence of a primary caregiver. Parents rated their state anxiety and catastrophizing about child pain. Parent HRV was examined at 30-second epochs at rest ("trait HRV"), before ("state HRV-warm"), and during their child's CPT ("state HRV-cold"). Parent behaviors were video recorded and coded as coping-promoting or distress-promoting. Thirty-one parents had complete cardiac, observational, and self-report data. A small to moderate negative correlation emerged between state HRV-cold and CP behaviors during CPT. Trait HRV moderated the association between parent state catastrophizing and distress-promoting behaviors. Parents experiencing state catastrophizing were more likely to engage in distress-promoting behavior if they had low trait HRV. This novel work suggests parents who generally have a low (vs. high) HRV, reflective of low capacity for emotion regulation, may be at risk of engaging in behaviors that increase child distress when catastrophizing about their child's pain.