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Resting heart rate variability is negatively associated with mirror neuron and limbic response to emotional faces.

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Whether neurovisceral integration, reflected by resting high-frequency heart rate variability (HRV), constrains or facilitates neural reactivity to other people's emotions is unclear. We assessed the relation between resting HRV and neural activation when observing and imitating emotional faces. We focused on brain regions implicated in sensorimotor resonance, salience detection and arousal. We used electrocardiogram data to compute resting HRV. Resting HRV measures were negatively correlated with activation in a portion of the inferior frontal gyrus showing mirror neuron properties, the insula and the amygdala in response to observation, but not imitation, of emotional faces. Thus, resting HRV appears to be linked to sensitivity to others' emotional cues, both in terms of the tendency to map others' emotional facial expressions onto one's own motor system and to rapidly detect and mark others' emotions as salient events. Resting HRV may reflect, in part, a threshold for increased processing of others' emotional cues.

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