Heart rate variability and pain: Associations of two interrelated homeostatic processes

Bradley M. Appelhans, Linda Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

179 Scopus citations


Between-person variability in pain sensitivity remains poorly understood. Given a conceptualization of pain as a homeostatic emotion, we hypothesized inverse associations between measures of resting heart rate variability (HRV), an index of autonomic regulation of heart rate that has been linked to emotionality, and sensitivity to subsequently administered thermal pain. Resting electrocardiography was collected, and frequency-domain measures of HRV were derived through spectral analysis. Fifty-nine right-handed participants provided ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness following exposure to 4 °C thermal pain stimulation, and indicated their thresholds for barely noticeable and moderate pain during three exposures to decreasing temperature. Greater low-frequency HRV was associated with lower ratings of 4 °C pain unpleasantness and higher thresholds for barely noticeable and moderate pain. High-frequency HRV was unrelated to measures of pain sensitivity. Findings suggest pain sensitivity is influenced by characteristics of a central homeostatic system also involved in emotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-182
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Autonomic
  • Emotion
  • Heart rate variability
  • Homeostasis
  • Pain
  • Parasympathetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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