The influence of two anxiolytics on basal heart rate and on the evoked cardiac response elicited by auditory stimuli, was studied in humans. Diazepam (Valium) (7.5 mg) and buspirone (Buspar) (7.5 mg), which differ in their psycho-pharmacological profiles, were used. Prestimulus vigilance and cognitive load were manipulated by instructions allowing the subjects to ignore the stimuli, or requiring them to count the tones. Drug effects were obtained in subjective alertness, basal heart rate level, and the evoked cardiac response. Diazepam reduced subjective alertness, while buspirone did not. Diazepam apparently increased heart rate levels relative to placebo, in contrast to buspirone, which produced an apparent decrease in heart rate. These drug-induced prestimulus heart rate level effects were associated with differential decelerations immediately following stimulus onset and appear to reflect differences in prestimulus vigilance. Opposite effects of the drugs were also observed in the second, acceleratory, component of the of the evoked cardiac response, and these were found to be independent of the prestimulus drug effects. Compared with placebo, buspirone appeared to enhance the acceleratory component in the count condition, while diazepam led to an apparent reduction of this component. Enhancement of this acceleration after buspirone may reflect an increase in cognitive effort directed to the performance of task-relevant behaviour, while the reduction of this component after diazepam can be regarded as a cognitive-motivational neutralisation of signal value. The differential effects of the two anxiolytics support the separation of the evoked cardiac response into different components and may also have implications for the clinical use of the drugs.