The human dive reflex: An experimental, topographical and physiological analysis

Barry E. Hurwitz, John J. Furedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This study examined the eliciting conditions, response topography and autonomic nervous system (ANS) control of the dive reflex as evoked in humans. Twenty-four subjects received eight trials in each of the three treatment conditions: breath holding without face immersion (BH); face immersion without breath holding (FI); and the "full dive" FIBH condition. It was the combination of both FI and BH in 23±0.5°C water that was necessary to elicit the dive reflex. A precise topographical analysis differentiated the FIBH condition from the FI and BH control conditions in terms of the emergence of a secondary component initiated approximately 12 seconds after trial onset. During this secondary component, augmentation of bradycardic (mean=16.3 bpm) and digital vasoconstrictive (mean=-24.9%) responses were maintained throughout the duration of the 40-second dive. A joint consideration of the heart rate and the T-wave amplitude measures as indices of the action of both branches of the ANS suggested that the dive reflex involves concurrent sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. A potential conditioning application of the dive reflex for countering paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia was discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-294
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology AND Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1986
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Breath holding
  • Digital vasomotor response
  • Diving reflex
  • Face immersion
  • Heart rate
  • Human dive reflex
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia
  • T-wave amplitude

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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