Study suggests pre-pandemic physiological data can help pred
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As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on psychological well-being unfolds, few studies have focused on pre-pandemic physiological predictors which could identify and treat individuals at risk. A new Bar-Ilan University study published in the journal Psychophysiology has revealed that physiological information collected from individuals long before the onset of Covid-19 can predict mental well-being during the pandemic.

One hundred eight-five Israeli adults who participated in the study completed online questionnaires assessing their mood regulation since Covid-19 began, and their well-being during the lockdown in mid-2020. The same individuals participated in a lab study 2-3 years prior to the pandemic in which physiological measures were taken during physical activity and during rest.

These measures included respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which shows how one's heart rate fluctuates according to one's respiration, and skin conductance level (SCL), which measures the activity of sweat glands in the palms. Both of these measures are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary physiological processes including heart rate, arousal, blood pressure, and digestion. The results were assessed to determine individuals' mental well-being and their ability to regulate negative emotions during the pandemic.

Individuals who had higher RSA in the lab (2-3 years ago) reported better expectations to be able to regulate their negative mood during the pandemic, and thus reported higher mental well-being. Individuals with higher SCL did not exhibit the same effect. Individuals with higher SCL most likely experienced an increased sense of distress or vigilance in these times of uncertainty, and for these reasons, higher RSA no longer directly relates to better mental well-being.

"Physiological data assessed during rest, from heart rate, respiration, or sweat activity that was collected in unrelated lab studies 2-3 years ago is predictive of how individuals are coping psychologically today during the Covid-19 pandemic," said Prof. Gordon, who led the study. "This information can help us determine which individuals may be at risk for heightened mental distress and enable us to better locate and treat them."