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Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Apr 1;55(7):685-91.

Heart period and variability findings in preschool children with posttraumatic stress symptoms.

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Department of Psychiatry and Neurobiology, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Development Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.



Traumatic experiences for young children might result in profound neurodevelopmental changes, compared with adults. Our aim was to examine autonomic control of heart rate in traumatized young children.


Sixty-two children who had suffered traumas and 62 nontraumatized control children, aged 20 months to 6 years, were assessed for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, interbeat interval, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), family rehearsal of the trauma, and parent-child relationship quality.


Traumatized children with PTSD and traumatized children without PTSD both had decreased heart period in response to a trauma stimulus relative to the nontraumatized group (both p < .0167). there was no main effect for RSA change scores, however, there was a significant interaction effect between parental positive discipline with PTSD symptoms and RSA. The most sympathetic children had decreased RSA during the trauma stimulus when they had caregivers with less positive discipline during a clean-up nd family rehearsal with PTSD symptoms.


These findings underscore that psychopathology in young children ought to be assessed in the context of psychophysiology and parent-child relationship to optimally understand the mechanisms of maladaptation during this complex developmental period.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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