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Resting Cardiac Vagal Tone is Associated with Long-Term Frustration Level of Mental Workload: Ultra-short Term Recording Reliability


Excessive mental workload represent a critical risk factor for workplace accidents. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a non-invasive low cost electrophysiological autonomic biomarker related to emotional and cognitive regulation. Several studies report that mental overload impairs parasympathetic-mediated HRV indices (e.g. rMSSD). However, the influence of resting state HRV as a predictor of long-term mental workload impairments remains unknown. Thirty participants (22 males; 8 females) had their HRV measured (5-min period) before performing the number search task. After the task, the mental load was accessed by the NASA-TLX questionnaire. A simple linear regression model between HRV and NASA-TLX dimensions showed that resting state rMSSD is associated to physical demand (ND-2, R2 = 0.143, p = 0.03) and frustration level (ND-6, R2 = 0.175, p = 0.02) dimensions of mental workload. The comparison between 1 and 5-min epochs suggests that regression models remain reliable even using the ultra-short term HRV (< 1 min) recording values (R2 values from 0.11 to 0.15 for ND-2 and R2 values from 0.16 to 0.19 for ND-6). These results suggest that resting state HRV is associated to long-term effects of mental workload on physical and emotional demands. In addition, the ultra-short term HRV indices remains reliable to assess ND-2 and ND-6 dimensions of mental workload when compared to gold-standard time interval (> 5 min). The resting state cardiac autonomic tone assessment optimizes the physiological approach with a quick, non-invasive and low-cost assessment that can provide insights about mental load adjustments to prevent work-related accidents.

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This work was supported by PRONEX Program (Programa de Núcleos de Excelência—NENASC Project) of FAPESC-CNPq-MS, Santa Catarina Brazil (process number 56802/2010). RW is a Researcher Fellow from CNPq (Brazilian Council for Scientific and Technologic Development, Brazil), AAH is supported by scholarships from CAPES/PNPD and HMM is supported by CAPES/DS scholarship.

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Correspondence to Hiago Murilo Melo.

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The authors have no conflict of interest, source of funding or financial ties to disclose and no current or past relationship with companies or manufacturers who could benefit from the results of the present study.

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This research was approved by the local ethics committee (Comitê de Ética e Pesquisa com Seres Humanos da UFSC—CEPSH), which can be checked by CAAE: 44053615.4.0000.0121. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Melo, H.M., Hoeller, A.A., Walz, R. et al. Resting Cardiac Vagal Tone is Associated with Long-Term Frustration Level of Mental Workload: Ultra-short Term Recording Reliability. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 45, 1–9 (2020).

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  • Heart rate variability
  • Mental workload
  • Frustration level
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • rMSSD