Sunday, April 24, 2011

Follow Your Heartbeat

I've come across a few articles recently all on how our heartbeat influences us. Here's a snippet from an interesting paper related to my previous post on our unconscious thoughts. In the study students were asked to figure out a game with no obvious strategy:
Most players gradually found a way to win at the card game and they reported having relied on intuition rather than reason. Subtle changes in the players' heart rates and sweat responses affected how quickly they learned to make the best choices during the game.

Interestingly, the quality of the advice that people's bodies gave them varied. Some people's gut feelings were spot on, meaning they mastered the card game quickly. Other people's bodies told them exactly the wrong moves to make, so they learned slowly or never found a way to win.

Dunn and his co-authors found this link between gut feelings and intuitive decision making to be stronger in people who were more aware of their own heartbeat. So for some individuals being able to 'listen to their heart' helped them make wise choices, whereas for others it led to costly mistakes.
So being aware of your heartbeat makes your "heart" and your "head" more connected. Similar to this and connected to my recent post on empathy, being aware of others' feelings can change our heartbeat. In the study some of the participants were forced to bond and some weren't. Then:
the other student was allocated the task of running on the spot vigorously for three minutes. This time, the sight of their partner running apparently caused the socially connected participants to experience increased heart rate and blood pressure, as compared with the participants who hadn't been prompted to feel socially connected. A weak bond had led the strangers' hearts to beat together.
So being socially connected makes you feel what they feel. So being aware of your heartbeat can help you access your subconscious, be more empathetic, and in this last study, improve your internal clock:
Thirty-one participants listened to auditory tones of either 8, 14, or 20 seconds duration. After each one, they heard a second tone and had to press a button when they thought its duration matched the first. Counting was forbidden during the task and a secondary, number-based memory task helped enforce this rule. Heart-beat perception accuracy was measured separately and simply involved participants counting silently their own heart-beats over periods of 25, 35, 45 and 60 seconds.

The take away message is that the participants who were more in tune with their heart-beats also tended to perform better at the time estimation task.
Perhaps these are some of the benefits of silent meditation and prayer.

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