Stephen Porges

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Stephen Porges
Steve Porges.jpg
Born 1945
New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Residence Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Nationality American
Fields Biological Psychology
Institutions University of North Carolina (professor)
Alma mater Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; USA
Known for The Polyvagal Theory

Stephen W. Porges is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Prior to moving to North Carolina, Professor Porges directed the Brain-Body Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he also held appointments in the Departments of Psychology, BioEngineering, and the Program in Neurosocience. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Porges served as Chair of the Department of Human Development and Director of the Institute for Child Study. He is a former President of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been President of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences (now called the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences), a consortium of societies representing approximately 20,000 biobehavioral scientists. He was a recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He has chaired the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Maternal and Child Health Research Committee and was a visiting scientist in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Laboratory of Comparative Ethology. He was awarded a patent on a methodology to describe neural regulation of the heart. Porges is a neuroscientist with particular interests in understanding the neurobiology of social behavior. His research crosses disciplines and he has published in anesthesiology, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, space medicine, and substance abuse. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the autonomic nervous system to the emergence of social behavior. The theory provides insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders. The theory has stimulated research and treatments that emphasize the importance of physiological state and behavioral regulation in the expression of several psychiatric disorders including autism and provides a theoretical perspective to study and to treat stress and trauma.

Stephen Porges is married to C. Sue Carter, a world leader in the role of neuropetides oxytocin and vasopressin in social cognition. They have two sons, Eric and Seth Porges.

Major accomplishments[edit]

  • The first to quantify and use heart rate variability both as response and individual difference variable in psychophysiological research.
  • Pioneer in developmental psychophysiology –one of the first to use autonomic measures to investigate the “psychological” world including studies of attention and autonomic conditioning in the newborn infant.
  • Introduced respiratory sinus arrhythmia as index of vagal function to the area of psychophysiology.
  • Developed a statistic to describe the covariation of two periodic signals when they vary across a band of frequencies (i.e., weighted coherence).
  • First to apply measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia as an index of depth of anesthesia and as a measure of neural function in critical care medicine.
  • Demonstrated that early measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia were related to clinical course in preterm and full term newborns.
  • Developed a unique method to dynamically measure periodic components of heart rate variability when the components are superimposed on a nonstationary baseline; method received a patent and is used in approximately 200 laboratories worldwide; 1985, awarded patent.
  • Proposed the Polyvagal Theory that is based on the phylogeney of the vertebrate autonomic nervous system. The theory led to discovery of three phylogenetically ordered neural circuits regulating autonomic nervous system. The newest circuit reflects unique face-heart connections which forms a functional “social engagement system” involving an integrated regulation in the brainstem of the striated muscles of the face and head with a mammalian myelinated vagus. The theory also proposes that the older vagal circuit is involved in death feigning and the shutdown behaviors often observed in response to life-threat.

The Polyvagal Theory[edit]

Main article: Polyvagal Theory

The Polyvagal Theory introduces a new perspective relating autonomic function to behavior that includes an appreciation of the autonomic nervous system as a "system," the identification of neural circuits involved in the regulation of autonomic state, and an interpretation of autonomic reactivity as adaptive within the context of the phylogeny of the vertebrate autonomic nervous system.[1] The polyvagal perspective explores new questions, paradigms, explanations, and conclusions regarding the role that autonomic function has in the regulation of affective states and social behavior. Foremost, the polyvagal perspective emphasizes the importance of phylogenetic changes in the neural structures regulating the heart and how these phylogenetic shifts provide insights into the adaptive function of both physiology and behavior. The theory emphasizes the phylogenetic emergence of two vagal systems: a potentially lethal ancient circuit involved in defensive strategies of immobilization (e.g., fainting, dissociative states) and a newer mammalian circuit linking the heart to the face that is involved in both social engagement behaviors and in dampening reactivity of the sympathetic nervous system and the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

The Polyvagal Theory provides a new conceptualization of the autonomic nervous system that emphasizes how an understanding of neurophysiological mechanisms and phylogenetic shifts in the neural regulation of the heart leads to insights into causes and treatments of mental and physical illness.[2] The Polyvagal Theory provides a plausible explanation of several features that are compromised during stress and observed in several psychiatric disorders.

Professional societies[edit]

  • Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research
  • American Psychological Association
  • Association for Psychological Science
  • International Society for Infant Studies
  • Society for Psychophysiological Research
  • Society for Research in Child Development
  • International Behavioral Neuroscience Society

Editorial duties[edit]

  • Psychophysiology (1983–1987)
  • Infant Behavior and Development (1977–1992)
  • Child Development
  • Developmental Psychobiology (1985–1991, 1995–1999)
  • Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (1993-)
  • Developmental Review (2000-)

Selected works[edit]

  • Porges SW. (1992). Vagal Tone: A physiological marker of stress vulnerability. Pediatrics 90:498-504.
  • Porges SW. (1995). Cardiac vagal tone: A physiological index of stress. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 19:225-233.
  • Porges SW. (1995). Orienting in a defensive world: Mammalian modifications of our evolutionary heritage. A Polyvagal Theory. Psychophysiology 32:301-318.
  • Porges SW. (1996). Physiological regulation in high-risk infants: A model for assessment and potential intervention. Development and Psychopathology 8:43-58.
  • Porges SW. (1998). Love: An emergent property of the mammalian autonomic nervous system. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23:837-861.
  • Porges SW. (2001). The Polyvagal Theory: Phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. International Journal of Psychophysiology 42:123-146.
  • Porges SW. (2003). The Polyvagal Theory: Phylogenetic contributions to social behavior. Physiology and Behavior 79:503-513.
  • Porges SW. (2003). Social engagement and attachment: A phylogenetic perspective. Roots of Mental Illness in Children, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1008:31-47.
  • Porges SW. (2004). Neuroception: A subconscious system for detecting threat and safety. Zero to Three: Bulletin of the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs 24:5,19-24.
  • Porges SW. (2005). The vagus: A mediator of behavioral and visceral features associated with autism. In ML Bauman and TL Kemper, eds. The Neurobiology of Autism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 65-78.
  • Porges SW. (2006). Asserting the role of biobehavioral sciences in translational research: The behavioral neurobiology revolution. Developmental Psychopathology 18:923-933.
  • Porges SW. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biological Psychology 74:116-143.
  • Porges SW. (2009). The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 76:S86-90.
  • Porges SW. (2009). Reciprocal influences between body and brain in the perception and expression of affect: A polyvagal perspective. In D Fosha, D Siegel, and M Solomon, eds. The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development, and Clinical Practice. New York: Norton, 27-54.
  • Porges SW, Lewis GF. (2009). The polyvagal hypothesis: Common mechanisms mediating autonomic regulation, vocalizations, and listening. In SM Brudzynski, ed. Handbook of Mammalian Vocalizations: An Integrative Neuroscience Approach. Amsterdam: Academic Press, 255-264.
  • Porges SW, Furman SA. (2011). The early development of the autonomic nervous system provides a neural platform for social behavior: A polyvagal perspective. Infant and Child Development 20:106-118.
  • Porges SW, Carter CS. (2011). Neurobiology and evolution: Mechanisms, mediators, and adaptive consequences of caregiving. In SL Brown, RM Brown, and LA Penner, eds. Self Interest and Beyond: Toward a New Understanding of Human Caregiving. New York: Oxford University Press, 53-71.
  • Heilman KJ, Harden E., Zageris D, Berry-Kravis E, Porges SW (2011). Autonomic regulation in Fragile X Syndrome. Developmental Psychobiology 53:785-795.
  • Heilman KJ, Connolly SD, Padilla WO, Wrzosek MI, Graczyk PA, Porges SW (2012). Sluggish vagal brake reactivity to physical challenge in children with selective mutism. Development and Psychopathology, 24: 241-250.
  • Porges SW, Macellaio M, Stanfill SD, McCue K, Lewis GF, Harden ER, Handelman M, Denver J, Bazhenova OV, Heilman KJ. (2013). Respiratory sinus arrhythmia and auditory processing in autism: Modifiable deficits of an integrated social engagement system? International Journal of Psychophysiology 88: 261-270.
  • Heilman KJ, Harden ER, Weber KM, Cohen M, Porges SW. (2013). Atypical autonomic regulation, auditory processing, and affect recognition in women with HIV. Biological Psychology 94:143-151.
  • Williamson JB, Heilman KM, Porges EC, Lamb DG, Porges SW (2013). Possible mechanism for PTSD symptoms in patients with traumatic brain injury: central autonomic network disruption. Frontiers in Neuroengineering. doi: 10.3389/fneng
  • Carter CS, Porges SW. (2013). The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis. EMBO Reports. 2013 Jan 3;14(1):12-6. doi: 10.1038/embor.2012.191. Epub 2012 Nov 27.


  • Porges SW, Coles MGH, eds. (1976). Psychophysiology. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross.
  • Coles MGH, Donchin E, Porges SW, eds. (1986). Psychophysiology: Systems, Processes & Applications. New York: Guilford.
  • Carter CS, Ahnert L, Grossmann K, Hrdy SB, Lamb ME, Porges SW, Sachser N, eds. (2005) Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Porges SW, Trejo BM, Martinez AC. (2005). La Teoria Polivagal. Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos.
  • Porges SW (2010). Die Polyvagal-Theorie: Neurophysiologische Grundlagen der Therapie. Paderborn, Germany: Junfermann Verlag.
  • Porges SW (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. New York: WW Norton.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Porges, S.W. (2003). The Polyvagal Theory: phylogenetic contributions to social behavior. Physiology and Behavior, 79, 503-513.
  2. ^ Porges, S.W. (2007). The Polyvagal Perspective. Biological Psychology, 74, 116-143.

External links[edit]