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Mental workload modulates the effects of baroreceptor afferents on sensorimotor processing

Xiao Yang1* Katie Heberlein1 Anthony Reid1 Dongfang Jiao1 Fang Fang2
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1 Department of Psychology, College of Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, United States of America
2 Department of Internal Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia, United States of America
Submitted: 15 November 2023 | Accepted: 14 March 2024 | Published: 1 April 2024
© 2024 by the Author (s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( )

The heart–brain interaction is the main mechanism for maintaining normative physiological processes, and its dysregulation underlies the somatic symptoms of various mental disorders. Cortical inhibition, triggered by afferent signals from baroreceptor activation, induces systematic variations in sensorimotor responses within a cardiac cycle, with reaction times (RTs) slower at cardiac systole compared to diastole (known as cardiac cycle time effects). However, recent data suggest that baroreceptor afferents not only inhibit simple responses but also facilitate complex sensorimotor responses during cardiac systole. The mental workload that is implicated in complex responses may modulate the cardiac cycle time effects. The current study aimed to examine whether concurrent mental workloads influenced cardiac cycle time effects on sensorimotor processing. Using a dual-task paradigm, 47 participants (32 female; age = 21.9 ± 2.1 years) performed a choice RT task and a working memory (WM) task. Stimuli were presented during either cardiac systole or diastole. RT data were fitted using the ex-Gaussian distribution, and the parameters, mu and tau, were derived to indicate response speed and high-order attentional processes, respectively. The behavioral data were submitted to 2 (WM load) × 2 (cardiac timing) repeated measures analyses of variances. The results indicated that RT metrics were longer during cardiac systole than diastole under the no-load condition. However, WM load reversed the cardiac timing effects on response speed while inducing more attentional lapses. These findings suggest that concurrent WM load influences cardiac cycle time effects on sensorimotor processing via top-down resources.

Baroreceptor afferents
Cardiac timing
Mental workload
Ex-Gaussian modelling
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Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
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