Associations between cortical thickness and parasympathetic nervous system functioning during middle childhood

Marta Korom*, Alexandra R. Tabachnick, Tabitha Sellers, Emilio A. Valadez, Nim Tottenham, Mary Dozier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Positive associations have been found between cortical thickness and measures of parasympathetic cardiac control (e.g., respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA) in adults, which may indicate mechanistic integration between neural and physiological indicators of stress regulation. However, it is unknown when in development this brain–body association arises and whether the direction of association and neuroanatomical localization vary across development. To investigate this, we collected structural magnetic resonance imaging and resting-state respiratory sinus arrhythmia data from children in middle childhood (N = 62, Mage = 10.09, range: 8.28–12.14 years). Whole-brain and exploratory ROI analyses revealed positive associations between RSA and cortical thickness in four frontal and parietal clusters in the left hemisphere and one cluster in the right. Exploratory ROI analyses revealed a similar positive association between cortical thickness and RSA, with two regions surviving multiple comparison correction, including the inferior frontal orbital gyrus and the Sylvian fissure. Prior work has identified these cortical areas as part of the central autonomic network that supports integrative regulation of stress response (e.g., autonomic, endocrine, and behavioral) and emotional expression. Our results suggest that the association between cortical thickness and resting RSA is present in middle childhood and is similar to the associations seen during adulthood. Future studies should investigate associations between RSA and cortical thickness among young children and adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14391
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • cortical thickness
  • middle childhood
  • respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • structural MRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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