Sigh rate and respiratory variability during mental load and sustained attention

Psychophysiology. 2011 Jan;48(1):117-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2010.01043.x.


Spontaneous breathing consists of substantial correlated variability: Parameters characterizing a breath are correlated with parameters characterizing previous and future breaths. On the basis of dynamic system theory, negative emotion states are predicted to reduce correlated variability whereas sustained attention is expected to reduce total respiratory variability. Both are predicted to evoke sighing. To test this, respiratory variability and sighing were assessed during a baseline, stressful mental arithmetic task, nonstressful sustained attention task, and recovery in between tasks. For respiration rate (excluding sighs), reduced total variability was found during the attention task, whereas correlated variation was reduced during mental load. Sigh rate increased during mental load and during recovery from the attention task. It is concluded that mental load and task-related attention show specific patterns in respiratory variability and sigh rate.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • Young Adult