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Personality and Heart Rate Variability:
Exploring Pathways from Personality to Cardiac Coherence and Health

Ada H. Zohar, C. Robert Cloninger and Rollin McCraty

Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2013. Vol.1, No.6, 32-39, Nov. 2013.

For a PDF version of the complete paper, click here.

Abstract

Background: Personality and heart rate variability (HRV) are each strong predictors of well-being, particularly cardiac health and longevity. The current project explores the correlates of personality traits on heart rate variability (HRV) to clarify how autonomic regulation may mediate the development and maintenance of health and disease.

Hypothesis: Personality traits will be significantly correlated with specific measures of HRV. In particular, the Character traits of Self-Directedness, Cooperativeness, and Selftranscendence are known to promote physical, mental, and social aspects of well-being, so they were expected to be associated with indices of HRV indicating autonomic balance.

Methods: Participants were 271 volunteers from the community, adult men and women. They received an extensive self-report questionnaire, allowing for a comprehensive personality evaluation. Of these participants, 118 underwent ambulatory—24 hours recording of HRV. The HRV recordings were sent to the Institute of HeartMath for interpretation.

Data Analysis: Data for personality was retrieved from the Qualtrics site after online administration, into which the HRV data were entered. Analyses were conducted in SPSS 20.

Results: Systematic and significant associations between personality traits were found. In particular, the Temperament and Character Inventory’s character traits were related to autonomic balance as measured by the ratio of low frequency (sympathetic) to high frequency (parasympathetic) activity. Openness, aggression, avoidant attachment, and forgiveness were found to relate to several HRV variables.

Conclusion: The relations among personality and HRV support the validity of the measures in ways that clarify the strong relations among personality, HRV, and health. Further work to replicate and extend these preliminary findings in a larger sample is underway.