Unveiling gender differences in psychophysiological dynamics: support for a two-dimensional autonomic space approach

Yarden Menashri Sinai, Yaopeng X.J. Ma, Michal Abba Daleski, Sharon Gannot, Ronny P. Bartsch, Ilanit Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: To date, studies focusing on the connection between psychological functioning and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity usually adopted the one-dimensional model of autonomic balance, according to which activation of one branch of the ANS is accompanied by an inhibition of the other. However, the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches also activate independently; thus, co-activation and co-inhibition may occur, which is demonstrated by a two-dimensional model of ANS activity. Here, we apply such models to assess how markers of the autonomic space relate to several critical psychological constructs: emotional contagion (EC), general anxiety, and positive and negative affect (PA and NA). We also examined gender differences in those psychophysiological relations. Methods: In the present study, we analyzed data from 408 healthy students, who underwent a 5-min group baseline period as part of their participation in several experiments and completed self-reported questionnaires. Electrocardiogram (ECG), electrodermal activity (EDA), and respiration were recorded. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), pre-ejection period (PEP), as well as cardiac autonomic balance (CAB) and regulation (CAR) and cross-system autonomic balance (CSAB) and regulation (CSAR), were calculated. Results: Notably, two-dimensional models were more suitable for predicting and describing most psychological constructs. Gender differences were found in psychological and physiological aspects as well as in psychophysiological relations. Women's EC scores were negatively correlated with sympathetic activity and positively linked to parasympathetic dominance. Men's PA and NA scores were positively associated with sympathetic activity. PA in men also had a positive link to an overall activation of the ANS, and a negative link to parasympathetic dominance. Discussion: The current results expand our understanding of the psychological aspects of the autonomic space model and psychophysiological associations. Gender differences and strengths and weaknesses of alternative physiological models are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1363891
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2024 Menashri Sinai, Ma, Abba Daleski, Gannot, Bartsch and Gordon.


  • cardiac autonomic balance (CAB)
  • cardiac autonomic regulation (CAR)
  • cross-system autonomic balance (CSAB)
  • cross-system autonomic regulation (CSAR)
  • electrodermal activity (EDA)
  • gender
  • pre-ejection period (PEP)
  • respiratory sinus arrythmia (RSA)


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