Individual differences in estimates of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) have been implicated in the ability to respond efficiently to challenges encountered in different environmental contexts. Studies have used resting RSA and the suppression of RSA to emotional or challenging cognitive tasks to assess parasympathetic contributions to emotional and attentional regulation. In the current study, estimates of resting RSA, and RSA suppression were used in conjunction with measures of attentional control and anxiety to predict self-rated measures of executive functions and task performance on a mental math exercise. The data suggest that resting RSA, in conjunction with good attentional control and low anxiety are better predictors of global measure of a participantâs ability to employ executive processes compared to RSA suppression. Both resting RSA and RSA suppression predicted more efficient task performance on the mental math exercise. The suppression of RSA, however, was more predictive of better performance in participants with poor attentional control and high anxiety. Resting RSA may be a better predictor of the ability of an individual to respond to challenges encountered in the environment. The degree of RSA suppression may be task specific and related to the interpretation of the degree of challenge associated with the task requirements.
KEYWORDS: executive function, attention, emotion, anxiety, heart rate variability