Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Growing evidence suggests that vagus nerve activity is an important aspect of social functioning. For instance, vagus nerve activity is linked to positive emotions, low-arousal states, social approach motivations, and emotion recognition, expression, and regulation. By modifying a relatively new manipulation technique – transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) – we experimentally test the relationship between vagus nerve activity and social functioning, hypothesizing that participants receiving tVNS, compared to sham stimulation, will self-report more positive affect and less arousal, have greater accuracy in emotion recognition, perceive others as more trustworthy and less threatening, and have higher implicit and explicit motivations for social affiliation. One hundred and twenty-six undergraduate students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill participated in this double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment. Results support the hypothesis that tVNS, compared to sham stimulation, improves emotion recognition accuracy. Limitations of the current study as well as the basic and clinical implications of this methodology and initial finding are discussed.