Considerations in the assessment of heart rate variability in biobehavioral research

Author: Daniel S Quintana1, James A J Heathers2
1 NORMENT, K.G. Jebsen Centre for Psychosis Research, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo Oslo, Norway ; Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital Oslo, Norway.
2 School of Psychology, University of Sydney Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychol
Date published: 2014 Jul 22
Other: Volume ID: 5 , Pages: 805 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00805. , Word Count: 172

Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to various methods of assessing the beat-to-beat variation in the heart over time, in order to draw inference on the outflow of the autonomic nervous system. Easy access to measuring HRV has led to a plethora of studies within emotion science and psychology assessing autonomic regulation, but significant caveats exist due to the complicated nature of HRV. Firstly, both breathing and blood pressure regulation have their own relationship to social, emotional, and cognitive experiments - if this is the case are we observing heart rate (HR) changes as a consequence of breathing changes? Secondly, experiments often have poor internal and external controls. In this review we highlight the interrelationships between HR and respiration, as well as presenting recommendations for researchers to use when collecting data for HRV assessment. Namely, we highlight the superior utility of within-subjects designs along with the importance of establishing an appropriate baseline and monitoring respiration.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system; emotion; heart rate variability; parasympathetic nervous system; psychophysiology; respiration.

PMID: 25101047 PMCID: PMC4106423 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00805