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High frequency heart rate variability is associated with sensitivity to affective touch

Pawling, R, McGlone, F and Walker, SC (2024) High frequency heart rate variability is associated with sensitivity to affective touch. Physiology & Behavior, 283. ISSN 0031-9384

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C-tactile afferents (CTs) are a class of unmyelinated, mechanosensitive nerve fibre that respond optimally to skin temperature, slow moving touch typical of a caress. They are hypothesised to signal the rewarding value of affiliative tactile interactions. While CT firing frequency is positively correlated with subjective ratings of touch pleasantness, trait differences in sensitivity to the specific hedonic value of CT targeted touch have been reported. Inter-individual differences in vagally mediated, high frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) have been linked to variation in visual social cognition. Thus, the aim of the present study was to examine the relationship between resting state HF-HRV and sensitivity to socially relevant CT targeted touch. 58 healthy participants first had a 5-minute electrocardiogram. They then rated the pleasantness of 5 randomly presented velocities of robotically delivered touch. Three velocities fell within (1, 3, 10 cm/s) and two outside (0.3, 30 cm/s) the CT optimal range. Each velocity was delivered twice. On a group level, affective touch ratings were described by a negative quadratic function, with CT optimal velocities rated as more pleasant than slower and faster speeds. Simple regression analysis confirmed participants’ HF-HRV was significantly predicted by the quadratic curve fit of their touch ratings, with higher HF-HRV associated with a better quadratic fit. These findings indicate that, in line with previous observations that higher HF-HRV is associated with enhanced sensitivity to visual social cues, trait differences in autonomic control could account for previously reported individual differences in CT sensitivity.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Affective touch, Heart rate variability; C-tactile afferent; Social; Touch; 06 Biological Sciences; 11 Medical and Health Sciences; 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences; Behavioral Science & Comparative Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Psychology (from Sep 2019)
Publisher: Elsevier
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2024 14:07
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2024 14:15
DOI or ID number: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2024.114600
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/23676
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