How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases

Marijke De Couck, Ralf Caers, Liza Musch, Johanna Fliegauf, Antonio Giangreco, Yori Gidron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Volume139
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by PWO Odisee and IRP VUB to Dr. Marijke De Couck.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

Keywords

  • Breathing patterns
  • Decision-making
  • Heart rate variability
  • Vagus nerve
  • Work stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)

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