A Meta-Analysis of Heart Rate Variability and Neuroimaging Studies: Implications for Heart Rate Variability as a Marker of Stress and Health

Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 36 (2012) 747–756

Posted: 28 Oct 2016

See all articles by Julian Thayer

Julian Thayer

Ohio State University (OSU)

Fredrik Ahs

Uppsala University

Mats Fredrikson

Uppsala University

John Sollers

University of Auckland

Tor Wager

University of Colorado at Boulder

Date Written: November 30, 2011

Abstract

The intimate connection between the brain and the heart was enunciated by Claude Bernard over 150 years ago. In our neurovisceral integration model we have tried to build on this pioneering work. In the present paper we further elaborate our model and update it with recent results. Specifically, we performed a meta-analysis of recent neuroimaging studies on the relationship between heart rate variability and regional cerebral blood flow. We identified a number of regions, including the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, in which significant associations across studies were found. We further propose that the default response to uncertainty is the threat response and may be related to the well known negativity bias. Heart rate variability may provide an index of how strongly ‘top-down’ appraisals, mediated by cortical-subcortical pathways, shape brainstem activity and autonomic responses in the body. If the default response to uncertainty is the threat response, as we propose here, contextual information represented in‘appraisal’ systems may be necessary to overcome this bias during daily life. Thus, HRV may serve as a proxy for ‘vertical integration’ of the brain mechanisms that guide flexible control over behavior with peripheral physiology, and as such provides an important window into understanding stress and health.

Suggested Citation

Thayer, Julian and Ahs, Fredrik and Fredrikson, Mats and Sollers, John and Wager, Tor, A Meta-Analysis of Heart Rate Variability and Neuroimaging Studies: Implications for Heart Rate Variability as a Marker of Stress and Health (November 30, 2011). Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 36 (2012) 747–756. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2858586

Julian Thayer

Ohio State University (OSU) ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Fredrik Ahs

Uppsala University ( email )

Box 513
Uppsala, 751 20
Sweden

Mats Fredrikson

Uppsala University ( email )

Box 513
Uppsala, 751 20
Sweden

John Sollers

University of Auckland ( email )

Private Bag 92019
Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland, 1142
New Zealand

Tor Wager (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

Boulder, CO

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