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Front Psychol. 2011 Oct 31;2:278. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00278. eCollection 2011.

Individual Differences in Heart Rate Variability Predict the Degree of Slowing during Response Inhibition and Initiation in the Presence of Emotional Stimuli.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam Amsterdam, Netherlands.


Response inhibition is a hallmark of executive control and crucial to support flexible behavior in a constantly changing environment. Recently, it has been shown that response inhibition is influenced by the presentation of emotional stimuli (Verbruggen and De Houwer, 2007). Healthy individuals typically differ in the degree to which they are able to regulate their emotional state, but it remains unknown whether individual differences in emotion regulation (ER) may alter the interplay between emotion and response inhibition. Here we address this issue by testing healthy volunteers who were equally divided in groups with high and low heart rate variability (HRV) during rest, a physiological measure that serves as proxy of ER. Both groups performed an emotional stop-signal task, in which negative high arousing pictures served as negative emotional stimuli and neutral low arousing pictures served as neutral non-emotional stimuli. We found that individuals with high HRV activated and inhibited their responses faster compared to individuals with low HRV, but only in the presence of negative stimuli. No group differences emerged for the neutral stimuli. Thus, individuals with low HRV are more susceptible to the adverse effects of negative emotion on response initiation and inhibition. The present research corroborates the idea that the presentation of emotional stimuli may interfere with inhibition and it also adds to previous research by demonstrating that the aforementioned relationship varies for individuals differing in HRV. We suggest that focusing on individual differences in HRV and its associative ER may shed more light on the dynamic interplay between emotion and cognition.


emotion regulation; heart rate variability; individual differences; response inhibition; stop-signal task

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