Controlling the emotional heart: heart rate biofeedback improves cardiac control during emotional reactions

Int J Psychophysiol. 2014 Mar;91(3):225-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.12.008. Epub 2013 Dec 27.


When regulating negative emotional reactions, one goal is to reduce physiological reactions. However, not all regulation strategies succeed in doing that. We tested whether heart rate biofeedback helped participants reduce physiological reactions in response to negative and neutral pictures. When viewing neutral pictures, participants could regulate their heart rate whether the heart rate feedback was real or not. In contrast, when viewing negative pictures, participants could regulate heart rate only when feedback was real. Ratings of task success paralleled heart rate. Participants' general level of anxiety, emotion awareness, or cognitive emotion regulation strategies did not influence the results. Our findings show that accurate online heart rate biofeedback provides an efficient way to down-regulate autonomic physiological reactions when encountering negative stimuli.

Keywords: Arousal control; Biofeedback; Cardiac control; Emotion regulation; Heart rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Arousal
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / methods
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires