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Dysfunctional self-regulation has been proposed to be the hallmark of almost all types of poor mental health. Although many prominent researchers have emphasized the role that executive attention control plays in self-regulation, the link between the two in mental health has been less apparent. According to the neurovisceral integration model, cardiac vagal tone, which refers to the parasympathetic influence on the heart at rest, can indicate the functional integrity of self- regulatory systems. A series of recent experiments demonstrate how individual differences in cardiac vagal tone indexed by heart rate variability (HRV) were associated with a varying degree of attentional control to emotional stimuli. The current paper reviewed recent research findings that showed how HRV modulated key components of executive control. These new findings provide evidence linking self-regulatory capacity and executive control, which may play an important role in supporting healthy mental health.
American Psychiatric Association defines mental illnesses as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” 2 Unfortunately, the number of people affected by mental illness is staggering and increasing at an alarming rate. According to the American Psychiatric Association 2 , nearly one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness in a given year. One in 24 (4.1 percent) percent of individuals are being diagnosed with debilitating mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression and one in 12 (8.5 percent) with a substance use disorder.
There is a growing body of literature showing that dysfunctional self-regulation is one of the important contributing factors of the etiology and maintenance of various mental illness. 1, 2-6 Self- regulation refers to the ability to regulate cognition, emotion, and behavior to make an adaptive response to meet constantly changing environmental demands, which has been recognized as a key concept that helps understand human development and psychopathologies. 1, 7-9, 10-11 Of particular interest is the link between attention and self-regulation. Attention involves selecting and focusing on information, which shapes and guides thoughts and actions. 10, 12-13 Also, attention plays a critical role in producing self-regulatory responses not only by selecting and focusing on stimuli in the physical environment but also by internally modulating cognitive processes of different information processing. 10
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