It has been hypothesized that resting state cardiac vagal activity (CVA) - an indicator of parasympathetic nervous system activity - is a specific psychophysiological marker of executive control function. Here, we propose an alternative hypothesis - that CVA is associated with early stage attention orientation, promoting the flexible uptake of new information, on which the later operation of such executive control functions depends. We therefore predicted that CVA would predict the interaction between orienting and executive control. This was tested using the revised version of the Attention Network Test (ANT-R) that was developed to distinguish between orienting and executive attention during a stimulus conflict task.
Healthy adults (N = 48) performed the ANT-R and their resting CVA was measured over a 5 min period using ECG recordings.
Multiple regression analyses indicated that, when other factors were controlled for, CVA was more strongly associated with the interaction between the orienting and executive control terms than with either factor individually.
Higher levels of CVA are specifically implicated in the modulation of executive control by intrinsic orientation operating at early stages of conflict detection. These initial findings of higher CVA on orienting attention in conflict detection need to be replicated in larger samples.