What the Heart Says to the Brain (and vice versa) and Why We Should Listen

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What the Heart Says to the Brain (and vice versa) and Why We Should Listen

Faculty of Arts and Scieneces
  • Executive Function
  • Working Memory
  • Rate Variability
  • Neurovisceral Integration
  • Emotional Regulation


In the present paper we describe a model of neurovisceral integration in which a set of neural structures involved in cognitive, affective, and autonomic regulation are related to heart rate variability (HRV) and cognitive performance. We will provide pharmacological and neuroimaging data in support of the neural structures linking the central nervous system to HRV. Next, we will review a number of studies from our group showing that individual differences in HRV are related to performance on tasks associated with executive function and prefrontal cortical activity as well as with emotional regulation. In the first study, individual differences in resting HRV we related to performance on executive and nonexecutive function tasks. The results showed that greater HRV was associated with better performance on executive function tasks. In another experiment, HRV was manipulated by physical detraining. Again, those that maintained their HRV at the post-test showed better performance on executive function tasks. In an experiment investigating emotional regulation we showed that resting levels of HRV were related to emotion modulated startle responses such that those with higher HRV produced context appropriate responses compared to those with low HRV. We propose that these findings have important implications for the understanding of the two-way communication between the heart and the brain.

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