The Physiological Regulation of Emotion During Social Interactions: Vagal Flexibility Moderates the Effects of a Military Parenting Intervention on Father Involvement in a Randomized Trial

Na Zhang, John Hoch, Abigail H. Gewirtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

To make prevention programs more effective and understand “what works for whom,” evidence regarding what individual characteristics predict intervention responsiveness is needed. Previous studies have evaluated a military parent training program known as After Deployment Adaptive Parenting Tools/ADAPT, yet less is understood about the program’s varying effects for fathers. We tested the physiological regulation of emotion during social interactions as a moderator predicting fathers’ responsiveness in a randomized trial of ADAPT, in which emotion regulation was operationally measured through vagal flexibility (VF; dynamic changes in cardiac vagal tone). Families with a child aged between 4 and 13 years for whom physiological data were gathered (n = 145) were randomly assigned to ADAPT (14-week face-to-face group intervention) or a control group (services as usual). Fathers in these families were National Guard/Reserve members who had been deployed to war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan and recently returned. Prior to the intervention, cardiac data was collected in-home throughout a set of family interaction tasks and VF was operationalized as the changes in high frequency (HF) power of heart rate variability (HRV) from a reading task to a problem-solving task. Parenting behaviors were observed and coded based on theory-driven indicators pre-intervention and at 1-year follow-up. Results of structural equation modeling showed that VF significantly moderated fathers’ intervention responsiveness, such that fathers with higher vs. lower VF exhibited more effective parenting at 1-year follow-up if they were randomized into ADAPT vs. the control group. This study is the first to demonstrate that parasympathetic vagal functioning may be a biomarker to predict response to a military parenting intervention to enhance parenting in combat deployed fathers. The implications for precision-based prevention are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)691-701
Number of pages11
JournalPrevention Science
Volume21
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

Keywords

  • Fathers
  • Heart rate variability
  • Military families
  • Parenting intervention
  • Vagal tone

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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