Vagal signaling and the somatic marker hypothesis

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Vagal signaling and the somatic marker hypothesis: The effect of transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation on delay discounting is modulated by positive mood.

Int J Psychophysiol. 2019 Nov 14;:

Authors: Steenbergen L, Cona G, Colzato LS, Maraver MJ

Controlling impulsivity and delaying gratifications are key features of effective self-control. Delay Discounting (DD) indexes the ability to delay rewards and previous research has shown that discounting is influenced by affective states such as mood. According to the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (SMH), afferent somatic signals, such as mood, are carried by the vagus and can influence decision making. In the current study, we employed transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), a novel non-invasive brain stimulation technique that stimulates the auricular branch of the afferent vagus nerve (located in the outer ear), to assess its effects on decision impulsivity, while taking into account individuals’ mood and resting-state HRV as a possible confounding factor. Employing a within-subjects cross-over design, 94 participants received active or sham tVNS while performing delay discounting in two separate sessions. As compared to sham, active tVNS increased discounting, but only for individuals reporting lower positive mood, regardless of the level of negative mood reported. We evidence that the effect of tVNS on reward discounting depends on the level of positive mood. This result suggests that positive mood state might be a proxy of task-relevant arousal, likely influencing the effectiveness of afferent vagal stimulation on self-control processes, as temporal discounting.

PMID: 31734442 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]