Atypical reactivity of heart rate variability to stress and depression across development: Systematic review of the literature and directions for future research

Clin Psychol Rev. 2016 Dec:50:67-79. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.09.003. Epub 2016 Sep 20.


Heart rate variability has received growing attention in the depression literature, with several recent meta-analyses indicating that lower resting heart rate variability is associated with depression. However, the role of fluctuations in heart rate variability (or reactivity) in response to stress in depression remains less clear. The present review provides a systematic examination of the literature on heart rate variability reactivity to a laboratory-induced stressor task and depression, including 26 studies of reactivity in heart rate variability and clinical depression, remitted (or history of) depression, and subthreshold depression (or symptom-level depression) among adults, adolescents, and children. In addition to reviewing the findings of these studies, methodological considerations and conceptual gaps in the literature are addressed. We conclude by highlighting the importance of investigating the potential transactional relationship between heart rate variability reactivity and depression and possible mechanisms underlying this relationship.

Keywords: Depression; Heart rate variability; Reactivity; Respiratory sinus arrhythmia; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Child
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*