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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

7 - Infant Heart Rate: A Developmental Psychophysiological Perspective



Psychophysiology is the study of the relation between psychological events and biological processes in human participants. The electrocardiogram (ECG) and heart rate (HR) have been commonly used measures throughout the history of psychophysiological research. Early studies found that stimuli eliciting differing emotional responses in adults also elicited HR responses differing in magnitude and direction of change from baseline (e.g., Darrow, 1929; Graham & Clifton, 1966; Lacey, 1959). Vast improvements in methods of measuring ECG and knowledge regarding the relation between HR and cognitive activity have occurred.

Heart rate has been particularly useful in developmental psychophysiological research. Researchers interested in early cognitive and perceptual development have utilized HR as a window into cognitive activity for infants before they are capable of demonstrating complex behaviors or providing verbal responses. Also, the relation between brain control of HR and the behavior of HR during psychological activity has helped work in developmental cognitive neuroscience. In this chapter, we address the use of the ECG and HR in research on infants. We review three ways in which HR has been used in psychophysiological research: HR changes, attention phases defined by HR, and HR variability (particularly respiratory sinus arrhythmia). Topics we focus on are the areas of the brain that are indexed with these measures, developmental changes associated with these measures, and the relation of these measures to psychological processes. Before covering research with infants, we briefly review background information on the heart, the ECG and HR, and its relation to psychophysiology.

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