Autonomic blockade does not prevent learned heart rate attenuation during exercise

Bernard T. Engel, Mark I. Talan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Each of three monkeys was operantly conditioned to slow its heart, to exercise (lift weights) and to attenuate the tachycardia of exercise by combining these two skills. Each was further tested during β-adrenergic blockade (atenolol), combined α-adrenergic blockade (prazosin) and β-adrenergic blockade, or cholinergic blockade (methylatropine). During all experiments heart rate, stroke volume, intraarterial blood pressure, O2 consumption, and CO2 production were recorded on a beat-to-beat basis. Each animal was able to attenuate the tachycardia of exercise under each of the drug conditions, indicating that "central command" is not the expression of fixed, cardiovascular and pulmonary reflexes elicited by somato-motor commands, but rather is an adaptive behavior, determined by environmental contingencies and mediated by cardiovascular and pulmonary as well as somato-motor commands. The ability of the animals to perform with greater cardiac efficiency during the combined exercise and heart rate slowing task relative to the exercise-only task was not affected by sympathetic blockade; however, parasympathetic blockade did reduce cardiac efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-382
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1991


  • Autonomic drugs
  • Central command
  • Exercise
  • Operant conditioning of heart rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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