The Link Between Resting Heart Rate Variability and Affective Flexibility

Author: Maud Grol, Rudi De Raedt
Author Information:
1 Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. maud.grol@ugent.be.
2 Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
Conference/Journal: Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
Date published: 2020 May 27
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.3758/s13415-020-00800-w. , Word Count: 219


The neurovisceral integration model aims to account for the complex interplay between physiological, cognitive, and emotion regulation processes through their support by common cortico-subcortical neural circuits. According to the model, vagally mediated heart rate variability (HRV) serves as a peripheral index of the functioning of these circuits, with higher levels of resting HRV reflecting more optimal functioning, to support goal-directed behaviour and adaptability to environmental demands. Although increased cognitive flexibility has been related to higher resting HRV, this has not been assessed in the context of emotional information to examine the interplay between cognition and emotion. Therefore, we investigated (n = 109) the relationship between resting HRV and performance on a task-switching paradigm in which participants shift attention between affective and nonaffective aspects of emotional material. Resting HRV was not associated with flexibility in processing of positive material, but more efficient shifting of attention (greater flexibility) from affective to nonaffective aspects of negative information was related to lower resting HRV. The avoidance theory of worry and anxiety, as well as empirical evidence, links anxiety to attentional avoidance of negative information. Our findings therefore support the neurovisceral integration model such that when greater flexibility can facilitate attentional avoidance of negative information-as seen in anxiety-it is related to lower resting HRV.

Keywords: Affective flexibility; Cognitive flexibility; Heart rate variability; RMSSD; Vagal tone.

PMID: 32462431

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