Sighs have important physiological and psychological regulatory functions. These rewarding effects of a sigh potentially reinforce sighing in situations that require physiological and/or psychological regulation. The present study aimed to investigate whether sighs can become learned behaviors via operant learning. In two studies, we manipulated the effect of spontaneous sighs in response to dyspnea relief, by either punishing a sigh by the onset of dyspnea, or not punishing a sigh by continued dyspnea relief. Results show that sigh rates in response to cues predicting the punishment of sighs are 1.20–1.28 times lower than sigh rates in response to cues predicting no punishment of sighs. These findings suggest that sighs can become learned behaviors via operant learning, contributing to both maladaptive sighing, potentially leading to respiratory dysregulation and respiratory complaints, and to adaptive sighing. Furthermore, these findings suggest new clinical practices to increase and decrease sigh rates during breathing training.
- Dyspnea relief
- Operant learning