Examining biological vulnerability in environmental context: Parenting moderates effects of low resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia on adolescent depressive symptoms

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Polyvagal theory suggests that parasympathetic regulation of cardiac function, indexed by resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), may be a marker of emotion regulatory capacity and associated with youth psychopathology. Contemporary models of psychopathology suggest that the effects of biological vulnerability may be moderated by developmental context. The aim of the present study was to examine whether parenting, particularly parental responses to youth's negative emotions, moderated the effects of resting RSA on depressive symptoms among early adolescents. We examined resting RSA, depressive symptoms, and parental responses to youth negative emotions among 120 adolescents aged 11–14 years (M = 12.86, SD = .85; 52.5% female). Resting RSA and lack of supportive parenting interacted to predict youth depressive symptoms, such that low resting RSA predicted more depressive symptoms only in the context of low levels of supportive parental responses to youth's negative emotions. By contrast, high resting RSA buffered the effects of low supportive parenting on youth depressive symptoms. These findings highlight the importance of understanding joint contributions of biological vulnerability and developmental context on youth depression outcomes. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 57: 974–983, 2015.

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