Document Type


Publication Date



RSA reactivity, Major depressive disorder, Depression trajectory, Sadness specificity

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) reactivity, an index of cardiac vagal tone, has been linked to self-regulation and the severity and course of depression (Rottenberg, 2007). Although initial data supports the proposition that RSA withdrawal during a sad film is a specific predictor of depression course (Fraguas, 2007; Rottenberg, 2005), the robustness and specificity of this finding are unclear. To provide a stronger test, RSA reactivity to three emotion films (happy, sad, fear) and to a more robust stressor, a speech task, were examined in currently depressed individuals (n = 37), who were assessed for their degree of symptomatic improvement over 30 weeks. Robust RSA reactivity to the sad film uniquely predicted overall symptom improvement over 30 weeks. RSA reactivity to both sad and stressful stimuli predicted the speed and maintenance of symptomatic improvement. The current analyses provide the most robust support to date that RSA withdrawal to sad stimuli (but not stressful) has specificity in predicting the overall symptomatic improvement. In contrast, RSA reactivity to negative stimuli (both sad and stressful) predicted the trajectory of depression course. Patients' engagement with sad stimuli may be an important sign to attend to in therapeutic settings.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

International Journal of Psychophysiology, v. 99, p. 108-113

This article is the post-print author version.

Under a Creative Commons license.