Unraveling the cognitive correlates of heart rate variability with the drift diffusion model

Derek P. Spangler, Xiao Yang, Blaire J. Weidler, Julian F. Thayer, Jared J. McGinley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Neurovisceral Integration Model posits a link between resting vagally mediated heart rate variability (vmHRV) and cognitive control. Empirical support for this link is mixed, potentially due to coarse performance metrics such as mean response time (RT). To clarify this issue, we tested the relationships between resting vmHRV and refined estimates of cognitive control- as revealed by the ex-Gaussian model of RT and, to a greater extent, the drift diffusion model (DDM, a computational model of two-choice performance). Participants (N = 174) completed a five-minute resting baseline while ECG was collected followed by a Simon spatial conflict task. The root mean square of successive differences in interbeat intervals was calculated to index resting vmHRV. Resting vmHRV was unrelated to Simon mean RT and accuracy rates, but was inversely related to the ex-Gaussian parameter reflecting slow RTs (tau); however, this finding was attenuated after adjustment for covariates. High resting vmHRV was related to faster drift rates and slower non-decision times, DDM parameters reflecting goal-directed cognition and sensorimotor processes, respectively. The DDM effects survived covariate adjustment and were specific to incongruent trials (i.e., when cognitive control demands were high). Findings suggest a link between vmHRV and cognitive control vis-a-vis drift rate, and potentially, a link between vmHRV and motoric inhibition vis-a-vis non-decision time. These cognitive correlates would have been missed with reliance on traditional performance. Findings are discussed with respect to the inhibitory processes that promote effective performance in high vmHRV individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-84
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
StatePublished - Nov 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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