Variable heart rate and a flexible mind: Higher resting-state heart rate variability predicts better task-switching

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2018 Aug;18(4):730-738. doi: 10.3758/s13415-018-0600-x.


The neurovisceral integration model proposes that heart rate variability (HRV) is linked to prefrontal cortex activity via the vagus nerve, which connects the heart and the brain. HRV, an index of cardiac vagal tone, has been found to predict performance on several cognitive control tasks that rely on the prefrontal cortex. However, the link between HRV and the core cognitive control function "shifting" between tasks and mental sets is under-investigated. Therefore, the present study tested the neurovisceral integration model by examining, in 90 participants, the relationship between vagally mediated resting-state HRV and performance in a task-switching paradigm that provides a relatively process-pure measure of cognitive flexibility. As predicted, participants with higher resting-state HRV (indexed both by time domain and frequency domain measures) showed smaller switch costs (i.e., greater flexibility) than individuals with lower resting-state HRV. Our findings support the neurovisceral integration model and indicate that higher levels of vagally mediated resting-state HRV promote cognitive flexibility.

Keywords: Cardiac vagal tone; Cognitive control; Cognitive flexibility; HF; Heart rate variability; RMSSD; Task-switching paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Retracted Publication

MeSH terms

  • Executive Function* / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Rest
  • Self-Control
  • Young Adult