Be still my heart: cardiac regulation as a mode of uncertainty reduction

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Decreased heart rate (HR) and variability (HRV) are well-established correlates of attention; however, the functional significance of these dynamics remains unclear. Here, we investigate whether attention-related cardiac modulation is sensitive to different varieties of uncertainty. Thirty-nine adults performed a binocular rivalry-replay task in which changes in visual perception were driven either internally (in response to constant, conflicting stimuli; rivalry) or externally (in response to physically alternating stimuli; replay). Tonic HR and high-frequency HRV linearly decreased as participants progressed from resting-state baseline (minimal visual uncertainty) through replay (temporal uncertainty) to rivalry (temporal uncertainty and ambiguity). Time-resolved frequency estimates revealed that cardiac deceleration was sustained throughout the trial period and modulated by ambiguity, novelty, and switch rate. These findings suggest cardiac regulation during active attention may play an instrumental role in uncertainty reduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1211-1223
Number of pages13
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Active inference
  • Attention
  • Heart rate
  • Multistable perception

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