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Higher Autonomic Activation Predicts Better Performance in Iowa Gambling Task

Drucaroff, Lucas Javier MD*; Kievit, Rogier MSc; Guinjoan, Salvador M. MD, PhD*,‡,§; Gerschcovich, Eliana Roldán MD*; Cerquetti, Daniel MSc EE*; Leiguarda, Ramón MD*; Cardinali, Daniel P. MD, PhD§,∥,¶; Vigo, Daniel E. MD, PhD§,∥,¶

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: June 2011 - Volume 24 - Issue 2 - p 93–98
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e3182239308
Original Studies

Objective To evaluate the relationship between the autonomic nervous system basal state and performance in decision-making tasks.

Background The link between performance in decision-making tasks and acute changes in autonomic parameters during their execution has been extensively investigated. However, there is lacking evidence regarding the relationship between decision making and basal autonomic state.

Methods Resting autonomic nervous system activity in 18 healthy individuals was assessed by means of heart rate variability (HRV) analysis before conducting 3 different decision-making tasks: an ambiguous one, the Iowa Gambling Task; a test that assesses risk-taking behavior, the Game of Dice Task; and a test that assesses reversal learning behavior, the Reversal Learning Task. The tasks were administered in a random manner.

Results There was a direct correlation between the Iowa Gambling Task net score and the resting low frequency HRV (r=0.73; P<0.001), which is strongly influenced by sympathetic activity. No correlations were found between HRV and the Game of Dice Task net score or the Reversal Learning Task last error trial.

Conclusions The results are compatible with the idea that a higher basal activation of autonomic nervous system is beneficial for subsequent decision-making process.

*Instituto de Investigaciones Neurológicas Raúl Carrea-F.L.E.N.I.

Departamento de Salud Mental, Facultad de Medicina, y Cátedra I Neurofisiología, Facultad de Psicología, UBA


Departamento de Fisiología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Buenos Aires

Departamento de Docencia e Investigación, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas, Universidad Católica Argentina

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This study was partially supported by a grant from the University of Buenos Aires (ME 006) and from the National Agency for Promotion of Science and Technology (ANPCyT; PICT 2007- 01045). D.E.V., S.M.G., and D.P.C. are Research Career Awardees from the Argentine Research Council (CONICET).

Conflicts of interest: none declared.

Reprints: Daniel E. Vigo, MD, PhD, Laboratorio de Neurociencias, Departamento de Fisiología, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Paraguay 2155, 1121 Buenos Aires, Argentina (e-mail:

Received November 8, 2010

Accepted May 9, 2011

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.