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Prosocial DevelopmentA Multidimensional Approach$
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Laura M. Padilla-Walker and Gustavo Carlo

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199964772

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199964772.001.0001

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Autonomic Regulation, Polyvagal Theory, and Children’s Prosocial Development

Autonomic Regulation, Polyvagal Theory, and Children’s Prosocial Development

(p.112) 6 Autonomic Regulation, Polyvagal Theory, and Children’s Prosocial Development
Prosocial Development

Paul D. Hastings

Jonas G. Miller

Oxford University Press

Early studies examining the relations between respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index of parasympathetic regulation, and children’s prosocial development provided little evidence of consistent associations. We contend that the Polyvagal Theory, as recently refined by Stephen Porges (2007, 2011), provides an evolutionary-based theoretical framework for the essential role of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), and the vagus nerve in particular, in the generation of positive other-oriented emotions and actions. Recent studies provide evidence that the flexible withdrawal and augmentation of parasympathetic influence over cardiac activity is associated with effective emotion regulation in response to others’ emotions, feelings of sympathetic concern, and displays of helpful and altruistic behaviors. Thus, one key aspect of understanding the multidisciplinarity of prosocial behavior is recognizing the integration of physiological, affective, cognitive and behavioral functioning that underlies children’s positive engagement with their social world.

Keywords:   polyvagal theory, parasympathetic, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA, autonomic nervous system, ANS, prosocial development, empathy, sympathy

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