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Front Psychol. 2014 Jul 15;5:758. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00758. eCollection 2014.

Individual differences in resting heart rate variability and cognitive control in posttraumatic stress disorder.

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1
Department of Psychology, Ohio State University Columbus, OH, USA.

Abstract

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by deficits in cognitive functioning, particularly cognitive control. Moreover, these deficits are thought to play a critical role in the etiology and maintenance of core PTSD symptoms such as intrusive thoughts and memories. However, the psychophysiological concomitants of cognitive control remain largely unexamined. In this article, we suggest that individual differences in heart rate variability (HRV), a physiological index of self-regulatory capacity, may underlie the association between cognitive control ability and intrusive cognitions in PTSD. We review evidence showing that individual differences in HRV at rest are related to prefrontal cortical activity and performance on a broad range of cognitive control tasks. We highlight the importance of inhibition as a mechanism by which HRV promotes successful cognitive control. In addition, we summarize recent research linking individual differences in HRV to performance on laboratory tasks that assess the ability to control unwanted memories and intrusive thoughts. We conclude by suggesting that future studies should examine the role of low HRV as a risk factor for developing PTSD.

KEYWORDS:

cognitive control; heart rate variability; individual differences; posttraumatic stress disorder

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