Cardiac vagal tone is correlated with selective attention to neutral distractors under load

Gewnhi Park, Michael W. Vasey, Jay J. Van Bavel, Julian F. Thayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined whether cardiac vagal tone (indexed by heart rate variability, HRV) was associated with the functioning of selective attention under load. Participants were instructed to detect a target letter among letter strings superimposed on either fearful or neutral distractor faces. Under low load, when letter strings consisted of six target letters, there was no difference between people with high and low HRV on task performance. Under high load, when letter strings consisted of one target letter and five nontarget letters, people with high HRV were faster in trials with neutral distractors, but not with fearful distractors. However, people with low HRV were slower in trials with both fearful and neutral distractors. The current research suggests cardiac vagal tone is associated with successful control of selective attention critical for goal-directed behavior, and its impact is greater when fewer cognitive resources are available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-406
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Emotion
  • Heart rate variability
  • Selective inhibition
  • Vagal tone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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