Measuring task-related changes in heart rate variability.

Ziev B. Moses, Linda J. Luecken, James C. Eason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small beat-to-beat differences in heart rate are the result of dynamic control of the cardiovascular system by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Heart rate variability (HRV) has been positively correlated with both mental and physical health. While many studies measure HRV under rest conditions, few have measured HRV during stressful situations. We describe an experimental protocol designed to measure baseline, task, and recovery values of HRV as a function of three different types of stressors. These stressors involve an attention task, a cold pressor test, and a videotaped speech presentation. We found a measurable change in heart rate in participants (n=10) during each task (all p's < 0.05). The relative increase or decrease from pre-task heart rate was predicted by task (one-way ANOVA, p= 0.0001). Spectral analysis of HRV during the attention task revealed consistently decreased measures of both high (68+/-7%, mean+/-S.E.) and low (62+/-13%) frequency HRV components as compared to baseline. HRV spectra for the cold pressor and speech tasks revealed no consistent patterns of increase or decrease from baseline measurements. We also found no correlation in reactivity measures between any of our tasks. These findings suggest that each of the tasks in our experimental design elicits a different type of stress response in an individual. Our experimental approach may prove useful to biobehavioral researchers searching for factors that determine individual differences in responses to stress in daily life.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Signal Processing
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Health Informatics


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