Effects of mental state on heart rate and blood pressure variability in men and women

Clin Physiol. 1995 Nov;15(6):557-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-097x.1995.tb00544.x.


The effect of different mental states on autonomic modulation of the cardiovascular system was assessed in healthy, normotensive men (n = 18) and women (n = 12). Heart rate variability (HRV), systolic blood pressure variability (BPV) and arterial baroreflex function were assessed during 4 tests at rest ((10 min + 5 min recovery) x 4): (1) Control (spontaneous breathing, (SB) (2) Mental distraction (SB + word puzzle) (3) Conscious control of breathing (paced at SB rate) and (4) Mental stress (SB + computer quiz). There were no significant gender differences in the responses to the interventions in terms of arterial (spontaneous) baroreflex (SPBX) control of HR, and indices of time and frequency domains of HRV and BPV, with the exception of the sympathetic indicator of HRV (low frequency power/total power; P < 0.01) which was lower in women during control and mental stress tests. Conscious control of breathing at SB did not alter HRV, BPV or SPBX in either men or women. Mental distraction and mental stress led to decreases in indices of time and frequency domains of HRV and BPV in all subjects, as well as increases in HR during distraction and in systolic BP during stress. These findings suggest that in studies of cardiovascular control: (1) Paced breathing at SB can be used for individuals with irregular breathing patterns (2) The extent of mental stress achieved is intervention-specific and for the most part, independent of gender and (3) Resting assessment of HRV, BPV and SPBX can be made by having subjects sit quietly without interventions in a controlled laboratory setting.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Baroreflex / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*