To evaluate the relationship between the autonomic nervous system basal state and performance in decision-making tasks.
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.
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.
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.
The results are compatible with the idea that a higher basal activation of autonomic nervous system is beneficial for subsequent decision-making process.