Sample Entropy of the Heart Rate Reflects Properties of the System Organization of Behaviour
Cardiac activity is involved in the processes of organization of goal-directed behaviour. Each behavioural act is aimed at achieving an adaptive outcome and it is subserved by the actualization of functional systems consisting of elements distributed across the brain and the rest of the body. This paper proposes a system-evolutionary view on the activity of the heart and its variability. We have compared the irregularity of the heart rate, as measured by sample entropy (SampEn), in behaviours that are subserved by functional systems formed at different stages of individual development, which implement organism-environment interactions with different degrees of differentiation. The results have shown that SampEn of the heart rate was higher during performing tasks that included later acquired knowledge (foreign language vs. native language; mathematical vocabulary vs. general vocabulary) and decreased in the stress and alcohol conditions, as well as at the beginning of learning. These results are in line with the hypothesis that irregularity of the heart rate reflects the properties of a set of functional systems subserving current behaviour, with higher irregularity corresponding to later acquired and more complex behaviour.