Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses and causes significant disturbances in daily functioning. Research on heart-rate variability (HRV) biofeedback training suggests that HRV is an efficacious adjunct to psychotherapy in reducing depressive symptoms. The purpose of this study was to examine neurological changes in depressed individuals who were randomized to either a psychotherapy plus HRV biofeedback training or to a treatment as usual group. A control group with no history of depression was also studied. We collected psychological, physiological, and imaging data from 30 participants (10 in an experimental group, 10 in a treatment as usual group, and the other 10 in a healthy control group) at baseline and follow-up. Regions of interest (ROIs) included anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Participants from the experimental group went through 5 weekly HRV trainings in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy approaches. The treatment as usual group only received psychotherapy. The healthy controls did not receive any HRV training or therapy services. Overall, we found significant improvements in the experimental group's depression score, overall distress level, and HRV measurements relative to the TAU and control groups. However, we did not find significant HRV and resting-state connectivity group differences among experimental group relative to healthy controls. Together, results suggest that HRV training helps to reduce depressed participants' overall distress level and depressive symptoms. However, findings do not show any changes in participants' imaging data. These findings serve as pilot data on literature related to HRV biofeedback training in a depressed population.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





heart-rate variability, depression, resting-state fMRI



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Psychology Commons