Interactions of Heart Rate Variability and Gender on Cognitive Performance
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Series/Report no.:2010 Richard J. and Martha D. Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. 15th
The study of reaction time to attention evoking stimuli is one to the oldest, yet consistently used paradigms in cognitive psychology. One variation of this paradigm is the Simon Effect task, during which individuals must respond to a stimuli that is consistent (congruent) or inconsistent (incongruent) with positioning. Interestingly, research has suggested that an index of cardiovascular health and flexibility (Heart Rate Variability|HRV) may predict performance on cognitive tasks such as the Simon Effect. This work suggests that communication between the heart and brain may serve much more complex functions than just heart rate regulation. In the present study we sought to support this notion using this attentional task. We predicted that individuals with higher resting HRV would show better performance on the cognitive task. Continuous heart rate data was collected using an exercise heart rate monitor (i.e. Polar watch) from 18 participants who completed a resting baseline period during which they sat quietly in a laboratory room, the Simon Task, and a recovery period. HRV was calculated for the baseline period of each participant; reaction times were computed for congruent/incongruent trials of the Simon Task. Means were compared using a factorial Analysis of Variance, First obtaining the median value for resting HRV and classified participants as either High HRV or Low HRV at baseline based on their position above or below the median; second, looking for potential gender differences in task performance. Analyses revealed a significant interaction between gender and HRV groups; males with High baseline HRV displayed slower mean reaction times whereas High HRV females exhibited faster reaction times. This pattern was reversed in the Low HRV groups for both genders. Our findings are partially consistent with previous research and further suggest that gender may be an important factor in using HRV as a predictor of cognitive performance.
Psychology: 3rd Place (The Ohio State University Denman Undergraduate Research Forum)
Academic Major: Psychology