• Cardiac cycle time effect;
  • Threshold stimuli;
  • Heart rate deceleration;
  • Phase sensitivity;
  • Respiration


We attempted to demonstrate that significant perceptual stimuli would induce different degrees of heart rate deceleration depending on when (phase) in the cardiac cycle they occurred. Relative to previous work, we concurrently examined a number of factors that might alter the amplitude of such a cardiac cycle time effect. Stimulus intensity and presence or absence of a speeded response were manipulated. Liminal stimuli and a perceptual rather than motor set were expected to maximize any cardiac cycle time effect. Respiratory phase, length of average interbeat interval, and number of trials were also investigated. Twenty-four college aged, male volunteers were randomly separated into equal groups receiving instructions either to judge which of two weak visual stimuli occurred or to execute a speeded, discriminative response to the stimuli. Discriminative stimuli were presented at either 0, 150, 250, 350, or 500 ms after the R-wave of the electrocardiogram. Stimuli were presented with an intensity that had yielded either 63% or 90% correct detections in a prior psychophysical assessment. A phase dependent deceleration occurred after both intensities of stimuli. Poststimulus deceleration was greater for stimuli in early to mid cycle as suggested by earlier work. As expected, this result was clear when the stimuli were presented during the expiratory phase of respiration. Neither perceptual/motor set nor stimulus intensity altered the phase sensitive deceleration. Thus, phase sensitive deceleration was confirmed using demanding sensory stimuli and an improved representational technique.

Integrative Summary

By controlling response speed and graphically separating anticipatory and stimulus induced effects, we have demonstrated primary bradycardia. Poststimulus deceleration was a decreasing function of time of stimulus presentation within the cardiac cycle. As expected, primary bradycardia was present during the expiratory phase, but not the inspiratory phase of respiration. Manipulations designed to enhance perceptual analysis altered performance but failed to significantly alter the cardiac response. Thus, we were able to produce a robust primary bradycardia, but were unable to alter the strength of primary bradycardia by manipulation of perceptual variables.