The many metrics of cardiac chronotropy: A pragmatic primer and a brief comparison of metrics

John J.B. Allen, Andrea S. Chambers, David N. Towers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

344 Scopus citations


This paper focuses on pragmatic issues in obtaining measures of cardiac vagal control, and overviews a set of freely available software tools for obtaining several widely used metrics that putatively reflect sympathetic and/or parasympathetic contributions to cardiac chronotropy. After an overview of those metrics, and a discussion of potential confounds and extraneous influences, an empirical examination of the relationships amongst these metrics is provided. This study examined 10 metrics in 96 unselected college students under conditions of resting baseline and serial paced arithmetic. Intercorrelations between metrics were very high. Factor analyses were conducted on the metrics reflecting variability in cardiac rate, once at baseline and again during mental arithmetic. Factor structure was highly stable across tasks, and included a factor that had high loadings of all variables except Toichi's "cardiac sympathetic index" (CSI), and a second factor that was defined predominantly by the CSI. Although generally highly correlated, the various metrics responded differently under challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-262
Number of pages20
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Cardiac vagal control
  • Cardiac vagal tone
  • Heart rate variability
  • Measurement
  • Methods
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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