Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Donald Morgenson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Research in human operant heart rate conditioning concerned with the elucidation of the mediators of operant heart rate changes has postulated five mediating mechanisms related to operant heart rate change: respiratory, somatic-muscular, central neurological, cognitive and dispositional (personality). However, examination of the literature indicates that much of this research has produced equivocal results, hence, a clear picture of mediation has not emerged. Experimenters interested in the events that mediate operant heart rate changes have not devoted much attention to the individual variability that is so pervasive in studies of human psychophysiology. Individuals may fundamentally differ in teh autonomic, central neurological, cognitive and dispositional variables associated with bidirectional operant heart rate control. The present study assessed the validity of the hypothesized mediational mechanisms by examining individual response patterns during a multiple session, extended trials (8 minutes) operant heart rate conditioning paradigm. Specifically, physiological, cognitive and personality parameters were assessed in terms of their collective contribution to the variability in bidirectional heart rate performance.

Fifty male subjects were instructed to control their heart and given visual feedback of cardiac activity during two training sessions separated by approximately one week. Each session consisted of two eight minute increase and decrease. The following dispositional-personality scales were administered: STAI-State and Trait Anxiety, Locus of Control, Introversion-Extroversion and Repression-Sensitization. Autonomic responding was assessed by continuously monitoring heart rate, respiration rate, forearm flexor electromyographic activity, eye blink and exosomatic galvanic skin response. In addition, subjects compelted a post-experimental questionnaire in order to provide several types of information concerning the cognitive strategies employed in the control of heart rate.

A multivariate approach to data reduction and analysis resulted in the following findings: (a) subjects demonstrated substantial changes in bidirectional heart rate when given instructions and when provided with analogue beat-by-beat feedback, (b) the mechanisms which mediate operant changes represent a multidimensional idiosyncratic interaction between physiology, cognition and personality; different physiological, cognitive and personality variables are associated with bidirectional heart rate control for different subjects, and (c) differential acquisition rates in the ability to acquire successful heart rate control on increase and decrease training within a multiple session, extended trials operant conditioning paradigm.

Collectively, these results indicate that bidirectional heart rate control is a complex idiosyncratic interaction between autonomic, cognitive and personality variables. Furthermore, these results have implications for operant heart rate control studies in that sources of variation, previously ignored in traditional between group comparison approaches have been identified as significant in their collective effect on control performance.

Convocation Year