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Effects of Positive Emotional Refocusing On Emotional Intelligence and Autonomic Recovery From Stress In High School Students

Thom Markham

Ph.D. Dissertation, Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco, California, 2004.

For a PDF version of the complete paper, click here.

Abstract

Using 99 ninth grade students as participants, this study employed a between-group experimental design to investigate the impact of positive emotional refocusing—a method developed by the Institute of HeartMath (the Freeze Frame method)—on heart rate variability (HRV), emotional intelligence (EI), and trait anxiety in adolescent youth. A group of 62 students received training in positive emotional refocusing during a three-month course in social-emotional learning; 37 students were in the waiting group. Results were assessed using the intrapersonal, stress management, and adaptability subscales of the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory for Youth and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Impact on HRV was assessed by comparing coherence and HRV patterns in the very low frequency, low frequency, and high frequency bands during stress recovery. For exploratory analysis within the training group, students were also categorized as High Anxious (n = 23) or Low Anxious (n = 16), using combined scores on the STAI and the Negative Life Events and Positive Life Events scales of the Life Stressors and Social Resources Inventory for Youth.

Training group participants showed significant increased coherence (p < .05) during autonomic recovery from stress. No changes in EI or trait anxiety were detected in the training group. Within-group analysis indicated that significant increases in coherence during stress recovery (p < .01) were recorded for Low Anxious participants, as opposed to no change in the High Anxious group. Exploratory analysis on baseline data for all participants who completed both HRV and behavioral measures (n = 72) indicated significant positive correlations between EI and coherence in Low Anxious participants. Low Anxious youth showed a significant negative correlation between trait anxiety and stress management skills, while High Anxious youth appeared to benefit significantly from positive life events.