• anxiety;
  • depressiveness;
  • heart rate variability;
  • parasympathetic activity;
  • responsiveness

Aims:  Previous studies have shown that heart rate variability (HRV) measurement is useful in investigating the pathophysiology of various psychiatric disorders. The present study further examined its usefulness in evaluating the mental health of normal subjects with respect to anxiety and depressiveness.

Methods:  Heart rate (HR) and HRV were measured tonometrically at the wrist in 43 normal subjects not only in the resting condition but also during a task (random number generation) to assess the responsiveness. For HRV measurement, high-frequency (HF; 0.15–0.4 Hz) and low-frequency (LF; 0.04–0.15 Hz) components of HRV were obtained using MemCalc, a time series analysis technique that combines a non-linear least square method with maximum entropy method. For psychological evaluation of anxiety and depressiveness, two self-report questionnaires were used: State–Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS).

Results:  No significant relation was observed between HR and HRV indices, and the psychological scores both in the resting and task conditions. By task application, HF decreased, and LF/HF and HR increased, and significant correlation with psychological scores was found in the responsiveness to task measured by the ratio of HRV and HR indices during the task to that at rest (task/rest ratio). A positive relationship was found between task/rest ratio for HF, and STAI and SDS scores. Task/rest ratio of HR was negatively correlated with STAI-state score.

Conclusion:  Decreased HRV response to task application is related to anxiety and depressiveness. Decreased autonomic responsiveness could serve as a sign of psychological dysfunction.