Lecture Series 3 – Associations between autonomic and cognitive flexibility: from assessment to therapeutic interventions

Lecturer: Cristina Ottaviani
Fields: Clinical psychophysiology



Perseverative cognition is now recognized as a transdiagnostic factor for the onset, maintenance and recurrence of psychiatric disorders as well as a risk factor for somatic health. Perseverative cognition represents a rigid and inflexible response to the environment which is characterized -among other processes- by high levels of intrusiveness and difficulties in disengaging from thoughts. From a neurophysiological point of view, this can be translated in a lack of inhibitory control, and several studies support such a deficit both at central and peripheral levels. Indeed, perseverative cognition has been associated with reduced prefrontal inhibitory control over limbic structures and by reduced parasympathetic control of the heart, assessed by heart rate variability (HRV). Data from several studies will be presented supporting the nexus between cognitive and autonomic rigidity. Lastly, therapeutic top-down (non-invasive brain stimulation) and bottom-up (e.g., HRV biofeedback) approaches to increase cognitive and autonomic flexibility will be illustrated.


  • Ottaviani, C. (2018). Brain-heart interaction in perseverative cognition. Psychophysiology, 1284, e13082. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13082
  • Ottaviani, C., Medea, B., Lonigro, A., Tarvainen, M., Couyoumdjian, A. (2015). Cognitive rigidity is mirrored by autonomic inflexibility in daily life perseverative cognition. Biological Psychology, 107, 24-30.
  • Ottaviani, C., Shapiro, D., Couyoumdjian, A. (2013). Flexibility as the key for somatic health: From mind wandering to perseverative cognition. Biological Psychology, 94, 38-43.


Dr. Cristina Ottaviani

Cristina Ottaviani is Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology. Dr. Ottaviani got a PsyD in 2005 and a PhD in 2009 at the University of Bologna, Italy. Her research interest is on brain-body interactions underlying cognitive rigidity, particularly during intrusive thinking. Dr. Ottaviani serves as Associate Editor for the International Journal of Psychophysiology and for the Journal of Psychophysiology.

Affiliation: Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
Homepage: https://corsidilaurea.uniroma1.it/it/users/cristinaottavianiuniroma1it