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Int J Psychophysiol. 2019 Mar 1;139:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.02.011. [Epub ahead of print]

How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases.

Author information

1
Faculty of Health Care, University College Odisee, Aalst, Belgium; Mental Health and Wellbeing, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium. Electronic address: Marijke.de.couck@vub.be.
2
Work and Organization Studies, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Brussels, Belgium; Department of Management, University of Seychelles, Victoria, Seychelles.
3
Faculty of Health Care, University College Odisee, Aalst, Belgium; Mental Health and Wellbeing, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.
4
IÉSEG School of Management (LEM CNRS UMR 9221), Lille, France.
5
SCALab, Lille 3 University & Siric Oncolille, Lille, France.

Abstract

Deep slow breathing can increase vagal nerve activity, indexed by heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is also associated with better decision-making. This research examined the effects of two breathing patterns on HRV (Study 1) and on stress and decision-making performance (Study 2). In Study 1, 30 healthy people performed either a symmetric breathing pattern (equal ratio of inhaling/exhalation timing), a skewed pattern (exhalation longer than inhalation), or watched an emotionally neutral film (sham), following a baseline period. Both types of breathing patterns significantly increased time and frequency domain HRV parameters, while viewing the film did not. In Study 2, 56 students were randomized to perform 2 min of the skewed vagal breathing (experimental group) or to wait for 2 min (controls), before performing a 30-minute business challenging decision-making task with multiple choice answers. Stress levels were self-reported before and after the task. While controls reported elevations in stress levels, those in the experimental group did not. Importantly, participants in the experimental group provided a significantly higher percentage of correct answers than controls. These studies show that brief vagal breathing patterns reliably increase HRV and improve decision-making. Limitations, possible mechanisms and implications for business decision-making are discussed.

KEYWORDS:

Breathing patterns; Decision-making; Heart rate variability; Vagus nerve; Work stress

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