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Introducing a baroreflex model for studying cardiovascular effects of mental workload


  • The authors thank Dr. Heinz Rüddel for helping to conduct the two experimental studies at the University Clinic in Bonn, Germany. The help of the technical support group Psychology (IDP) at the University of Groningen is greatly acknowledged.

  • Gijsbertus Mulder passed away in 1999; we dedicate this article to his memory.

Address reprint requests to: Lambertus J.M. Mulder, Department of Experimental and Work Psychology, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands; E-mail:


A quantitative baroreflex control model is presented aimed at estimating differences in autonomic activation due to mental task performance. The model, which builds on earlier work of Wesseling and colleagues, is strongly supported by well-established knowledge of physiological control processes. Spectral measures of heart rate and blood pressure variability provide the information to estimate autonomic gain and tone parameters. The article gives a detailed model description as well as an evaluation in terms of spectral variability distributions, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and vagal control mechanisms. The estimation procedure is outlined while presenting two studies that describe the effects of mental workload and vagal blockade, respectively. It is concluded that, using the model approach, cardiovascular effects of mental task performance can be interpreted in terms of specific changes in autonomic state. The model is implemented in a Matlab/Simulink environment and is available for other researchers in the field.