Deep slow breathing can increase vagal nerve activity, indexed by heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is also associated with better decision-making. This research examined the effects of two breathing patterns on HRV (Study 1) and on stress and decision-making performance (Study 2). In Study 1, 30 healthy people performed either a symmetric breathing pattern (equal ratio of inhaling/exhalation timing), a skewed pattern (exhalation longer than inhalation), or watched an emotionally neutral film (sham), following a baseline period. Both types of breathing patterns significantly increased time and frequency domain HRV parameters, while viewing the film did not. In Study 2, 56 students were randomized to perform 2 min of the skewed vagal breathing (experimental group) or to wait for 2 min (controls), before performing a 30-minute business challenging decision-making task with multiple choice answers. Stress levels were self-reported before and after the task. While controls reported elevations in stress levels, those in the experimental group did not. Importantly, participants in the experimental group provided a significantly higher percentage of correct answers than controls. These studies show that brief vagal breathing patterns reliably increase HRV and improve decision-making. Limitations, possible mechanisms and implications for business decision-making are discussed.
Keywords: Breathing patterns; Decision-making; Heart rate variability; Vagus nerve; Work stress.
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