Impact Factor


Front. Psychol., 22 July 2014 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00805

Considerations in the assessment of heart rate variability in biobehavioral research

  • 1NORMENT, K.G. Jebsen Centre for Psychosis Research, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 2Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
  • 3School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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: heart rate variability, autonomic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system, psychophysiology, respiration, emotion

Citation: Quintana DS and Heathers JAJ (2014) Considerations in the assessment of heart rate variability in biobehavioral research. Front. Psychol. 5:805. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00805

Received: 06 June 2014; Accepted: 07 July 2014;
Published online: 22 July 2014.

Edited by:

Andrew Kemp, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Reviewed by:

Mika Tarvainen, University of Eastern Finland, Finland
George E. Billman, The Ohio State University, USA

Copyright © 2014 Quintana and Heathers. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Daniel S. Quintana, NORMENT, K.G. Jebsen Centre for Psychosis Research – TOP Study, Building 49, Oslo University Hospital, Ullevål, Kirkeveien 166, P. O. Box 4956 Nydalen, 0424 Oslo, Norway e-mail: daniel.quintana@medisin.uio.no