PSYC23 - Lecture 11 - Mar29.docx

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19 Apr 2012

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LECTURE 11 Polyvagal Theory & Memory
March 29, 2012
- Vagal highlights
- Memory
o Principles
o Emotional memory study
o Infant memory study
Vagal Dollars
In a situation that is very challenging, there will be a lot of reserve in the vagus allowing the
ability to deal with the challenge
o Like having a lot of savings in the bank for emergencies
Vagal decisions/vagal gears (unconscious)
- Individual differences in vagus levels? --> having a lot of new or old vagus activity difference in
this? --> yes there are differences --> a factor in the differences in behavioural strategies across
individuals (differences in temperament and personality for example)
o Smart use of the vagus system --> the kind of person that tends to have high resting
vagus activity and can easily let go of the vagal break when challenged in order to rise to
the occasion --> E.g., Captain Kirk
- Some just don’t have enough vagal activity --> individuals who are depressed have really low
vagal activity --> chronic stress and reactivity to the environment? Difficulty inhibiting emotions?
o Stimulating the vagus nerve artificially --> sometimes helps these depressed individuals
Quantifying Smarter vagal activity
- How do you differentiate the kinds of activity from the old and new vagus? --> cant really tell;
measures are indirect measures of the smart vagus
- Indirect methods
o RSA = Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia
Breathing out --> surge in vagal nerve activation; vagal system is highly activated
--> heart slows way down --> increases heart rate variability (the time from one
heart beat to the next); the longer you breathe out, the slower your heart beats
--> gets you into a relaxed state
Inhaling --> inhibits vagal activity --> increases heart rate --> decrease in heart
rate variability
o Heart rate variability --> Measuring time between heart beats --> indirect measure of
the new vagus
Vagal-Behaviour Links
- Remember:
o Vagus system analogous to breaks on a car
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o Smart vagus keeps your heart rate down below 100 --> constant brake despite having
your foot on the accelerator
In an emergency, all you have to do is take your foot off the brake to go
zooming when needed
o The brain nuclei are what’re controlling the vagus nerves --> which nuclei??
- RECALL: RSA = Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia --> natural variation in heart rate during the
breathing cycle
o HRV = Heart Rate Variability --> measure of nervous system activity and heart rate
o Also a measure of PNS activity --> rest & digest behaviours
- Feeding/sucking --> vagal withdrawal; smart vagus withdraws --> temporarily causes the heart
rate to speed up
o Heart rate increases --> decreased change in RSA (or heart rate variability --> less time
between heart beats)
o Babies take their foot of the brake --> allows them to metabolize nutrients faster -->
they get aroused
o Infant calms down afterwards as a late response to feeding
- Social cognitive challenge
o Increased basal RSA; decrease in HRV --> increased heart rate --> results in being more
alert and focused
o Having a lot of vagus and being able to lift the foot off the vagus break when there is a
challenge are both very good --> increased attentiveness to what’s going on in the
Evolutionarily adaptive
- Crying (moved to tears)
o Increases smart vagus activity --> increased resting RSA; increased HRV (interesting
because despite the increased resting vagal tone, there is an increase in heart rate
variability or an increase in time between heart beats
- Seeing someone being sad (sadness)
o Respond by decreasing vagus activity --> decreased change in RSA --> more variability in
heart rate
o Kind of like a challenge --> almost like keeping you on your toes in order to
appropriately respond to environmental situations when necessary
o Smart vagus keeps you socially interactive with people despite the sadness
o Sympathetic response --> seen as a challenge because it’s upsetting
- Memory
o Better able to suppress vagus --> the better you’ll do on a memory task
- Memory principles review
o Metaphors
o Perception vs memory
o Time dependent
o Consolidation
o Reconsolidation
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- Emotional memory
- Development of memory
- Central idea --> experience makes an impression on your soul (makes an impression on your
brain) --> WAX TABLET METAPHOR --> consolidation
o Memory = Lasting impression, much like heated wax and a seal
To what extent is this really the case in which memory is simply the outcome of
an impression making system? --> once you get the impression, its all over;
permanent; immutable
New data suggests that this is not the best model
- What is the difference between perception and memory?
o The ability to distinguish between the two doesn’t function in abnormal individuals
o Newer data suggest that perception is part of memory --> what you perceive activates
the same areas that are activated in recall --> the biology that underlies these two
processes are overlapping
For the Brain, Remembering is Like Reliving
- Medial temporal lobe --> includes hippocampus --> critical for memory (encoding and
- In the study in the paper
o Had a specific population that they can carry this test out on --> epileptics
o Recorded single neurons deep in the medial temporal lobe simultaneously
o Showed individuals stimuli and measured how much reaction came out of that single
neuron --> measure of perception
o Later, asked the subject to recall anything that they remember out of the surgery
OBSERVATION: the same part of the brain that fired and got excited when the
video was watched also got excited when they began to recall the video
Specific to certain videos and not others
o RESULTS: First evidence for the idea that the same parts of the brain fire when
perceiving and when recalling a memory --> evidence of this overlap between
perception and memory
Memory Consolidation
(Muller & Pilzecker, 1990)
- New memories are fragile or labile until ``fixed`` and stable
o Time/memory --> Unidirectional
- Wax tablet metaphor --> memory is a process
- Consolidation is an unfolding process --> some kind of image is formed over time which
corresponds to the initial perception of the image
o What is the evidence that this wax metaphor really operates this way?
- What is known:
o Forming a new memory --> unstable, easily lost and messed with; not solid
o Studies have been able to show that initial memories are very plastic and that it is not
until consolidation that you get the nice hardened memory or lasting impression --> the
melted wax has not hardened yet
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