Heart rate variability helps tracking time more accurately

Brain Cogn. 2015 Dec;101:57-63. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2015.10.003. Epub 2015 Oct 24.


Adequate temporal abilities are crucial for adaptive behavior. In time processing, variations in the rate of pulses' emission by the pacemaker are often reported to be an important cause of temporal errors. These variations are often associated with physiological changes, and recently it has also been proposed that physiological changes may not just vary the pulses' emission, but they can work as a timekeeper themselves. In the present study we further explore the relationship between temporal abilities with autonomic activity and interoceptive awareness in a group of thirty healthy young adults (mean age 24.18 years; SD=2.1). Using electrocardiogram, impedance cardiography and skin conductance measures, we assessed the relationship between the autonomic profile at rest and temporal abilities in two temporal tasks (time bisection and finger tapping tasks). Results showed that heart rate variability affects time perception. We observed that increased heart rate variability (HRV) was associated with higher temporal accuracy. More specifically, we found that higher vagal control was associated with lower error in producing 1-s tempo, whereas higher overall HRV was related with lower error (measured by the constant error) in the time bisection task. Our results support the idea that bodily signals may shape our perception of time.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Finger tapping; HRV; Time bisection task; Time perception; Vagal activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interoception / physiology*
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult