Intra-individual variability in vagal control is associated with response inhibition under stress

Derek P. Spangler, Katherine R. Gamble, Jared J. McGinley, Julian F. Thayer, Justin R. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Dynamic intra-individual variability (IIV) in cardiac vagal control across multiple situations is believed to contribute to adaptive cognition under stress; however, a dearth of research has empirically tested this notion. To this end, we examined 25 U.S. Army Soldiers (all male, mean age = 30.73, standard deviation (SD) = 7.71) whose high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) was measured during a resting baseline and during three conditions of a shooting task (training, low stress, high stress). Response inhibition was measured as the correct rejection (CR) of friendly targets during the low and high stress conditions. We tested the association between the SD of HF-HRV across all four task conditions (IIV in vagal control) and changes in response inhibition between low and high stress. Greater differences in vagal control between conditions (larger IIV) were associated with higher tonic vagal control during rest, and stronger stress-related decreases in response inhibition. These results suggest that flexibility in vagal control is supported by tonic vagal control, but this flexibility also uniquely relates to adaptive cognition under stress. Findings are consistent with neurobehavioral and dynamical systems theories of vagal function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number475
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Nov 27 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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