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Helping from the heart: Voluntary upregulation of heart rate variability predicts altruistic behavior

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Bornemann,  Boris
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kok,  Bethany E.
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Böckler,  Anne
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, Julius Maximilian University, Würzburg, Germany;

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Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Bornemann, B., Kok, B. E., Böckler, A., & Singer, T. (2016). Helping from the heart: Voluntary upregulation of heart rate variability predicts altruistic behavior. Biological Psychology, 119, 54-63. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.07.004.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A318-9
Abstract
Our various daily activities continually require regulation of our internal state. These regulatory processes covary with changes in High Frequency Heart Rate Variability (HF-HRV), a marker of parasympathetic activity. Specifically, incidental increases in HF-HRV accompany positive social engagement behavior and prosocial action. Little is known about deliberate regulation of HF-HRV and the role of voluntary parasympathetic regulation in prosocial behavior. Here, we present a novel biofeedback task that measures the ability to deliberately increase HF-HRV. In two large samples, we find that a) participants are able to voluntarily upregulate HF-HRV, and b) variation in this ability predicts individual differences in altruistic prosocial behavior, but not non-altruistic forms of prosociality, assessed through 14 different measures. Our findings suggest that self-induction of parasympathetic states is involved in altruistic action. The biofeedback task may provide a measure of deliberate parasympathetic regulation, with implications for the study of attention, emotion, and social behavior.