Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

June Gruber

Second Advisor

Heidi Day

Third Advisor

Rolf Norgaard

Fourth Advisor

Joanna Arch


Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a chronic and serious psychological disorder associated with difficulties regulating emotions. However, few studies have examined potential psychophysiological features of individuals at risk for BD and whether they may be associated with self-reported emotion regulation difficulties. The present investigation employed a multi-modal experimental approach to examine one putative psychophysiological indicator of emotion regulation – respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) – in response to with emotion eliciting films and in association with and regulation strategies among emerging adults at either high risk (HR; n = 31) or low risk (LR; n = 29) for BD. Participants completed a baseline diagnostic visit and returned to the laboratory for a second visit to complete a standardized emotion elicitation film task where their physiological reactivity was assessed and self-reported trait emotion regulation strategies were measured. Results indicated that the HR group exhibited smaller decreases in RSA reactivity compared to the LR group across all films. No group differences emerged for either heart rate or skin conductance measures. Within the HR group, tonic RSA (i.e., during the resting baseline) was correlated with increased trait reappraisal. This investigation underscores the potential utility of physiological information in identifying individuals early on who may be at risk for mood disturbance.