Heart rate reactivity is associated with future cognitive ability and cognitive change in a large community sample.

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Abstract

The relationship between cardiovascular reactions to acute mental challenge in the laboratory and cognitive ability has received scant attention. The present study examined the association between reactivity and future cognitive ability. Heart rate and blood pressure reactions to a mental stress task were measured in 1647 participants comprising three distinct age cohorts. Cognitive ability was assessed using the Alice Heim-4 test of general intelligence and choice reaction time 5 and 12years later. High heart rate reactivity was related to higher general intelligence scores and faster choice reaction times at both follow-ups. High heart rate reactivity was also associated with a smaller decline in cognitive ability between assessments. These associations were still evident following adjustment for a wide range of potentially confounding variables. The present results are consistent with the notion that high reactivity may not always be a maladaptive response and that low or blunted reactivity may also have negative corollaries.

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