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Listen to your heart to control behaviour
Tuesday, 21 April, 2015 06:12pm  
Listen to your heart to control behaviour
Listening to your heart more often, not just when you are petrified or excited, may confer great benefits as researchers believe that being aware of the heart's rhythm could give people more control over their behaviour.

Changing heartrate is part of our automatic and unconscious 'fight or flight' response.

“'Follow your heart' has become something of a cliche, but we know that, consciously or unconsciously, there is a relationship between our heartrate and our decisions and emotions,” said Tristan Bekinschtein, lecturer at University of Cambridge.

“There may well be benefits to becoming more attuned to our heartbeat, but there is very little in scientific literature about whether this is even technically possible," Bekinschtein noted.

The researchers studied not only whether volunteers could be trained to follow their heartbeat, but whether it was possible to identify from brain activity how good they were at estimating their performance.

For the study, 33 volunteers took part in an experiment during which scientists measured their brain activity using an electroencephalograph (EEG).

First off, the volunteers were asked to tap in synchrony as they listened to a regular and then irregular heartbeat.

Next, they were asked to tap out their own heartbeat in synchrony. Then, they were asked to tap out their own heartbeat whilst listening to it through a stethoscope. Finally, the stethoscopes were removed and they were once again asked to tap out their heartbeat.

Just over four in ten (42 percent) of the participants showed significant improvement in their ability to accurately tap along unaided with their heartbeat.

In the final part of the test - after the participants had listened to their heartbeat through the stethoscope and were once again tapping unaided - the researchers found differences in brain activity between participants.

Crucially, they found an increase in 'gamma phase synchrony' - coordinated 'chatter' between different regions in the brain - in only those learners whose subjective judgement of their own performance matched their actual, objective performance.

The study appeared in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

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