• Article

Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion

Research on the development of emotions and their functional characteristics as regulators of behavior has grown dramatically over the past 10 years. There is currently renewed emphasis on the importance of emotion regulation and dysregulation for our understanding of normal development and the development of psychopathology. The 11 essays that constitute this Monograph survey theoretical, conceptual, and methodological issues involved in the study of emotion regulation, placing particular emphasis on the role that physiological systems play in the regulation of emotion and on the interface of a biological and a behavioral perspective. The Monograph is divided into three parts. Part 1 contains essays on the definitional issues involved in the study of emotion regulation. Kagan and Thompson attempt to define exactly what phenomenon it is that we are interested in studying. Kagan argues for a descriptive approach to studying emotional behavior, one in which psychological labels are put aside until there is a clear understanding of the behavioral pattern. Thompson provides a thorough review of the possible topics to be studied under the rubric of emotion regulation and emphasizes the importance of context for studying these phenomena. Both authors provide guidelines for approaching the study of emotional behaviors during development. Calkins outlines the influence that individual differences in emotion expression have on emotion regulation. She addresses the role of temperament and temperament/environment interactions and their effect on the development of emotion regulation. Cole, Michel, and Teti deal with the role that emotion regulation plays in developmental psychopathology, outlining the manner in which the development of emotion regulation may become dysfunctional and lead to problem outcomes. Their essay serves as a bridge between traditional developmental work on emotion and research in developmental psychopathology. The four essays in Part 2 focus on three different physiological systems-the neuroendocrine (Stansbury and Gunnar), autonomic nervous (Porges, Doussard-Roosevelt, and Maiti), and central nervous (Dawson and Fox) systems. These essays share common approaches to the study of emotion regulation, even though each system presents novel and potentially nonoverlapping information about the behaviors in question. The reader is provided with the background necessary to understand each complex physiological system and hence to evaluate the research that is being undertaken in that area. The three essays in Part 3 consider the role of relationships as regulators of emotional behavior. Both Hofer and Field write from the perspective of developmental psychobiology, presenting evidence of the effect that relationships have on physiological systems that are important for growth and development. Cassidy discusses current attachment theory and the role that working models of attachment play in the regulation of emotion. Taken together, these 11 essays offer a particular perspective toward emotional development and emotion regulation. This perspective reflects a functionalist view of emotions and provides evidence for the role that emotions play as regulators even as they themselves are being regulated during behavioral interaction.


Porges, S., Doussard-Roosevelt, JA., & Maiti, AK. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2/3), 167-186. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5834.1994.tb01283.x