The Loh Down On Science

Research into how our hearts affect what we perceive will facinate you!

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An ECG trace showing the phases of a heartbeat.

Can feelings literally be heartfelt?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying, we know that our brains are where emotions are processed.  But could the heart somehow be involved too?

Meet British neuroscientist Sarah Garfinkel.  She studies what’s called “interoception.”  That’s the concept that nerve cells within organs relay data to the brain.  For example:   The heart reports the strength and timing of beats.

But Garfinkel says it’s likely that’s not all the heart reports.  It may also be communicating data that the brain processes as emotion.

Garfinkel hooked volunteers up to an electrocardiograph, or ECG.  That’s a device that monitors heart activity.  The volunteers watched faces flash on a monitor.  They were either fearful or neutral.  Each face flashed either during systole, when the heart beats, or diastole, when it relaxes.

And?  Volunteers found fearful faces scarier during beats than during rests!  Brain scans showed corresponding brainwave activity with fearful faces.

Somehow the heart can change how we perceive things.  The findings could help treat anxiety.

As opposed to causing anxiety by flashing scary faces flash on a monitor.  Yikes!  Breathe, Sandra, breathe....


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