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We examined whether cardiac vagal tone (indexed by heart rate variability, HRV) was associated with the functioning of
selective attention under load. Participants were instructed to detect a target letter among letter strings superimposed on
either fearful or neutral distractor faces. Under low load, when letter strings consisted of six target letters, there was no
difference between people with high and low HRV on task performance. Under high load, when letter strings consisted
of one target letter and five nontarget letters, people with high HRV were faster in trials with neutral distractors, but not
with fearful distractors. However, people with low HRV were slower in trials with both fearful and neutral distractors.
The current research suggests cardiac vagal tone is associated with successful control of selective attention critical for
goal-directed behavior, and its impact is greater when fewer cognitive resources are available.