Emotional Processing and Heart Activity

  • Umberto ProvenzaniEmail author
Living reference work entry


In many cultures throughout history, the heart always gathered several qualities to be pronounced as “the seat of life,” where emotions increased its activity, and even to this day, heart imagery is often used to refer to emotional experience. Where does this association come from, and what relevance does it have for clinical research today? An increasing knowledge about afferent circuits to the nervous system (and efferent circuits to the body organs) resulted in new theories integrating the interplay of the heart and brain into emotional processes. Since the normal variability in heart rate is influenced by sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance, depending on environmental changes, the variation and the degree of its variability (heart rate variability (HRV)) have been found to provide information about emotional processing and the heart’s ability to respond to it. The two main models linking autonomic regulation to physiological and emotional processes are the polyvagal theory and the neurovisceral integration model, both presented here. Another important side of the connection between emotional processing and heart activity is represented by the concept of emotions as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The hypothesized link between negative emotional triggers and clinical events is mediated through neurophysiological responses such as autonomic dysfunction, hemodynamic responses, neuroendocrine activation, and inflammatory and prothrombotic responses. A wide array of negative and positive emotions, briefly summarized in this chapter, has been shown to independently increase or decrease the risk of a CVD-related event and mortality in different populations.


Emotion Processing Heart Activity Variability HRV CVD 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Brain and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze del Sistema Nervoso e del ComportamentoUniversità degli Studi di PaviaPaviaItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • Laura Fusar-Poli
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Medicina Clinica e Sperimentale, Unità di PsichiatriaUniversità degli Studi di CataniaCataniaItaly

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