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How Your Heart Influences What You Perceive and Fear

Explaining our experiences

Explaining our experiences

The brain is the ruler of our movements and the keeper of our thoughts. The brain is also joined to the body, and connection goes both ways. For example, if receptors indicate hunger, we find food to eat.

Research shows that those sensations do more than alert the brain to the body's immediate concerns. Studies of the heart give insights into the role the body's most basic processes play in explaining our experiences.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

How Your Heart Influences What You Perceive and Fear

How Your Heart Influences What You Perceive and Fear

https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-your-heart-influences-what-you-perceive-and-fear-20200706/

quantamagazine.org

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Key Ideas

Explaining our experiences

The brain is the ruler of our movements and the keeper of our thoughts. The brain is also joined to the body, and connection goes both ways. For example, if receptors indicate hunger, we find food to eat.

Research shows that those sensations do more than alert the brain to the body's immediate concerns. Studies of the heart give insights into the role the body's most basic processes play in explaining our experiences.

An effect of the systole phase

The activity of the heart can be divided into two phases: systole (when the heart muscle contracts and pumps out blood) and diastole (the heart relaxed and refills with blood.)

Systole decreases pain and control startle reflexes. Pressure sensors send signals of the heart's activity to inhibitory regions of the brain. Experiments show that people are more likely to forget the words they heard exactly at systole.

The heart is like a seesaw

When you sense something from inside, it reduces the processing of external signals. When your heartbeat is going, it's loading up the seesaw on one side.

An experiment showed that when people were given a faint electrical stimulus to their finger, they were more likely to notice it during diastole and miss it during systole. When the heart pushes blood through your body during systole, it's possible to feel your pulse in your fingertips.

The processing of fear

The systole doesn't inhibit the stimuli of fear. The systole not only activates inhibitory brain regions, but also the amygdala, an area that process the experience of fear. During systole, people can perceive fearful faces more intensely.

If you are in a state of fear, you don't want to be sensitive to pain. You want to run over broken glass to escape the threat. But you also want to be hyper-alert to danger in the environment.

Systole in people with anxiety

  • Researchers found eye movements often occur at systole, while we fix our gaze more often during diastole. During systole, we're least sensitive to the world.
  • Another finding is that systole is more likely to enhance fear processing in people with anxiety. If you can change how threatening stimuli are, you may be able to get people out of anxiety states.

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Oxytocin and attachment

Oxytocin - a large molecule produced by neurons in the hypothalamus - is known for coordinating bonding, sociality, and group living. Oxytocin targets mainly the amygdala, a center for fear and vigilance, the hippocampus, and the striatum, a locus of motivation and reward.

Oxytocin is released through the central part of the neuron as well as its extensions, called dendrites. The dendrites increase oxytocin release whenever attachment memories are used and prime us for a lifetime. Early attachment memories help us move without fear. It imprints the infant's brain with distinct social patterns.

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What fear is

Fear is the body's alarm system — it’s an innate emotional response to a perceived personal threat. 

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Our brain when we're afraid

A perceived threat sends information to the brain's emotional processing and learning center, called the amygdala. The amygdala sorts out the data within tens or hundreds of milliseconds. If it registers the threat, then it fires off a series of physical changes. Heart rate, breathing, and sweating increase in the fight-or-flight response because the body is preparing to flee or to fight if escape is impossible.

Best way to get over fears
A healthier way to cope involves facing the fear.

Getting over a fear is an active process that requires learning and retraining the brain. Essentially, you are training higher-level brain areas to overcome signals from areas like the amygdala so that you can put threats into a more realistic context.

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Over the years, research has shown that individuals tend not only to prefer contoured lines over straight ones but also to associate more joyful feelings with the first ones.

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Favoring the round-shaped items

According to research in the field, people have the tendency to associate happiness with circles and anger with triangles.

This seems to find its meaning in individuals' attraction to the roundness of a child's face, as, involuntarily, we associate innocence and honesty to round-shaped items.

The attraction of the circle

Taking into account that our own eyes function based on the existence of spheres, such as the iris or the pupil, there is no wonder that we all are, as individuals, prone to choose circular lines over straight ones.

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Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)

The whole brain can be considered an NCC because it generates experience continually.

  • When parts of the cerebellum, the "little brain" underneath the back of the brain, are lost to a stroke or otherwise, patients may lose the ability to play the piano, for example.  But they never lose any aspect of their consciousness. This is because the cerebellum is almost wholly a feed-forward circuit. There are no complex feedback loops.
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This illustrates that the illusion is mostly driven by expectations. Our eyes find it difficult to track fast-moving objects. Looking at the ball is only possible when we can predict where it will be in the future.

Perception does not take place in the eyes

Although most participants experience an illusory effect during magic tricks, the eyes are not tricked. The conscious perception has been fooled by the illusion, but your eyes have not.

Lots of neural calculations are required before we can experience the world. Neural signals start in the retina, then it passes through different neural centers to the visual cortex and higher cortical areas, and eventually build a mental representation of the outside world. It takes about a tenth of a second for the light registered by the retina to become a visual perception. The neural delay means we perceive things at least a tenth of a second after they happened.

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Emotions lead to feelings

Being aware of the constant dance between emotions and feelings could improve your decision-making ability.

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Focus on the resulting feeling

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The six emotions are broad categories, while the feelings are specific to describe what is going on in our bodies. For instance, disgust (emotion) may result in 'loathing' or 'detestable' feelings.

When you have to make a decision, always track your feeling to the resulting emotion to find the root cause.

Develop a working awareness
  1. Name what you are deciding.
  2. Name all the feelings you are experiencing in connection with the decision.
  3. Identify the root cause of the feelings you are experiencing in connection with your decision.
  4. Identify the emotions connected to these feelings.
  5. Process the emotion.
  6. Consider if you want to make a decision from this emotion or change course.
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Night terrors

Night terrors are very intense episodes of fright during dreams. These frightening episodes are often accompanied by screaming or yelling, as well as by physical movement such as leaping out of bed or flailing in panic. 

Research suggests that sleep terrors occur during non-REM sleep dreaming, while nightmares tend to happen during REM sleep. 

Recurring dreams
Recurring dreams are dreams that re-appear with some pattern of regularity. 

Studies suggest that recurring dreams may contain more threatening content than regular dreams. Research suggests links between recurring dreams and psychological distress in both adults and children.

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Laughter

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There are several brain pathways that contribute to laughter, like the regions of decision-making, behavior control, and our brains emotional circuitry.

The Underlying Neural Functions

Various studies and research have shed some light on the underlying neural functions of the brain features that result in laughter being expressed by the body.

Pseudobulbar Affect Syndrome is a condition involving an unsettling exhibition of laughter, characterized by frequent, involuntary and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and crying. This Syndrome is due to a disconnect between the frontal pathways of the brainstem, which control emotional drives, and is associated with several disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke.

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The humor effect defined
The humor effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to remember information better when that information is perceived as funny or humorous.

The use of humor enhances people’s

Benefits of incorporating humor into learning
  • Humorous information receives increased attention during the perception stage.
  • Improved encoding. Our brain gives preferential treatment to humorous information when it comes to storing it in our memory.
  • The use of humor serves as a distraction from negative emotions, such as anger or anxiety, that people might experience when processing certain information.
  • Reading or viewing something humorous has a positive and energizing effect.
  • Adding humor to the information that you are presenting can make it more interesting to others.
Different types of humor lead to different outcomes

The use of positive, nonaggressive humor is associated with 

  • improved learning outcomes, 
  • a relaxed learning environment, 
  • better student evaluations, 
  • an increased motivation to learn, 
  • improved information recall, 
  • an increased degree of student satisfaction throughout the learning process.

The use of negative or aggressive humor, especially if aimed at particular students, will produce the opposite effect.

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