Your Heartbeat Influences Your Emotions

What happens when you're afraid? The common thought is that your brain recognizes danger, then tells your heart to start pumping faster. Though that's true, it's not always the case. According to neuroscience, sometimes your heart is what tells your brain to fear.

For a 2014 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, University of Sussex psychologist Sarah Garfinkel and her colleagues set out to determine how much our heartbeats influence our emotions. They had participants watch pictures flash in front of them, and asked them to identify when they spotted a face. Some faces looked fearful, others looked happy or disgusted, and others wore a neutral expression. The participants didn't know it, but the researchers had timed the pictures to appear during certain points during their heartbeat: some flashed during the systole, contraction phase of their heartbeat; others flashed during the diastole, or relaxation phase. The team found that people detected the fearful faces more easily and rated them as more intense when they appeared during the systole phase. They performed a similar study while scanning participants' brains in an MRI and found that seeing fearful faces during systole phase was linked with more activity in the hippocampus and amygdala—areas associated with fear.

We often think that the brain rules the body, but the body is much more complex than that. Learn more about the mind-body connection in the videos below.

How Your Heart Actually Controls Your Emotions

The poets weren't far off.

A Body Map Of Emotions

Researchers tested people's emotional responses to create maps of where various emotions are felt in the body. Do these maps line up for you?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Emotions originate in the brain, but they can manifest as physical feelings throughout the body. 00:15

  2. The feeling of happiness seems to center most strongly in the head and chest. 00:52

  3. Mapping the physical locations of emotions on the body could help scientists to better understand mood disorders. 01:53

Why Do We Get Butterflies In Our Stomachs?

Here's what's happening when you get that fluttery, anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Butterflies in your stomach are a reaction to feeling stress. 00:11

  2. When the body is stressed, the pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. 00:33

  3. Because stress prompts more blood flow to the lungs and muscles, less blood reaches your stomach, causing the "butterflies" sensation. 00:56

Written by Curiosity Staff November 18, 2016

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