The human dive reflex: an experimental, topographical and physiological analysis

Physiol Behav. 1986;36(2):287-94. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(86)90018-1.


This study examined the eliciting conditions, response topography and autonomic nervous system (ANS) control of the dive reflex as evoked in humans. Twenty-four subjects received eight trials in each of the three treatment conditions: breath holding without face immersion (BH); face immersion without breath holding (FI); and the "full dive" FIBH condition. It was the combination of both FI and BH in 23 +/- 0.5 degrees C water that was necessary to elicit the dive reflex. A precise topographical analysis differentiated the FIBH condition from the FI and BH control conditions in terms of the emergence of a secondary component initiated approximately 12 seconds after trial onset. During this secondary component, augmentation of bradycardic (mean = 16.3 bpm) and digital vasoconstrictive (mean = -24.9%) responses were maintained throughout the duration of the 40-second dive. A joint consideration of the heart rate and the T-wave amplitude measures as indices of the action of both branches of the ANS suggested that the dive reflex involves concurrent sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. A potential conditioning application of the dive reflex for countering paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia was discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Diving*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Face / physiology
  • Female
  • Fingers / blood supply
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Vasomotor System / physiology