How Breathing Adjusts to Mental and Physical Demands

  • Paul Grossman
  • Cees J. Wientjes


Psychological influences upon respiratory regulation remain a much neglected area of investigation, although it is apparent that parameters of breathing must be integrated into a wide range of behavioral, emotional and cognitive acts. The general lack of knowledge regarding respiratory adjustments to psychological demands has led to the assumption that limited and stereotyped changes in respiratory variables are characteristic across the range of mental/emotional activities. However, this belief is not consistent with the rich and highly variable respiratory responses that can be demonstrated in the laboratory. Our research has examined the effects upon breathing of a wide variety of cognitive/emotional and physical demands, employing non-intrusive assessment of timing and volumetric components of the respiratory pattern. The findings indicate that dynamic and specific changes of breathing are uniquely related to the task-specific properties, whether primarily psychological or physical in nature. Given (1) the important function of breathing in mediating rapid, continuous changes in metabolic demands, (2) the integrated mid- and higher-brain control of breathing, and (3) our awareness and conscious sensitivity to ventilatory parameters, we believe that respiratory adjustments to highly specific behavioral demands have evolved as functional integrative adaptations to best fit and coordinate metabolic activity, cognitive performance, emotional self-regulation and perhaps even communicative signaling to conspecifics. Nevertheless, why the breathing pattern changes as it does to certain psychological circumstances remains highly speculative and unclear. Plausible hypotheses remain uncharted territory, and future investigation should focus upon the specific cognitive, emotional, signaling and metabolic demands of varying psychological demands, as well as brain centers controlling breathing under these variable conditions.


Tidal Volume Duty Cycle Minute Ventilation Metabolic Demand Breathing Pattern 
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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Grossman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cees J. Wientjes
    • 3
  1. 1.Breathing Space: Institute for Yoga, Meditation and HealthFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.HRCA Laboratory for Cardiovascular ResearchBostonUSA
  3. 3.TNO Human Factors Research InstituteSoesterburgthe Netherlands

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