From psychological moments to mortality: A multidisciplinary synthesis on heart rate variability spanning the continuum of time

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Dec;83:547-567. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.006. Epub 2017 Sep 6.


Heart rate variability (HRV) indexes functioning of the vagus nerve, arguably the most important nerve in the human body. The Neurovisceral Integration Model has provided a structural framework for understanding brain-body integration, highlighting the role of the vagus in adaptation to the environment. In the present paper, we emphasise a temporal framework in which HRV may be considered a missing, structural link between psychological moments and mortality, a proposal we label as Neurovisceral Integration Across a Continuum of Time (or NIACT). This new framework places neurovisceral integration on a dimension of time, highlighting implications for lifespan development and healthy aging, and helping to bridge the gap between clearly demarcated disciplines such as psychology and epidemiology. The NIACT provides a novel framework, which conceptualizes how everyday psychological moments both affect and are affected by the vagus in ways that have long-term effects on mortality risk. We further emphasize that a longitudinal approach to understanding change in vagal function over time may yield novel scientific insights and important public health outcomes.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Autonomic nervous system; Biomarkers; Emotion; Epidemiology; Health psychology; Heart rate variability; Inflammation; Mental health; Mood; Morbidity; Mortality; Neurovisceral integration model; Physical health; Polyvagal theory; Psychiatry; Psychophysiological flexibility; Psychophysiology; Public health; Resilience.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Health Behavior / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Psychophysiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*
  • Visceral Afferents / physiology