Children's Narratives and Patterns of Cardiac Reactivity

Yair Bar-Haim*, Nathan A. Fox, Kirsten M. VanMeenen, Peter J. Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examines the associations between narrative processing, narrative production, and cardiac rate and variability in children. Heart period (HP) and vagal tone (VT) were computed for fifty-eight 7-year-olds (29 males) during a resting baseline and during epochs in which the children listened to and completed a selected set of story-stems from the MacArthur Story-Stem Battery (I. Bretherton, D. Oppenheim, H. Buchsbaum, R. N. Emde, & the MacArthur Narrative Group, 1990). Significant decreases in HP and VT were observed between a resting baseline and epochs of story-stem presentation by the experimenter. In addition, HP was shorter and VT lower during children's narrative production to emotionally laden story-stems compared with narration to a neutral story-stem. Furthermore, narrative and cardiac responses to stories containing separation-reunion themes reflected increased emotional and cognitive load compared with responses to stories that did not contain such themes. Finally, children who showed VT suppression in response to emotion-laden stories produced more coherent and adaptive narratives compared to those of children who did not show VT suppression. The findings suggest interplay between the cognitive-emotional processes associated with narrative processing and production and cardiac activation patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-249
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004


  • Children
  • Heart period
  • Narrative
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • Vagal tone


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