Heartbeat can affect our perception of time

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Time and its perception depend not only on the brain but also on the heartbeat. At least at the level of milliseconds. A study published this month in the journal proves it Psychophysiology by a team of Cornell University psychologists. Experts have discovered how some of the time warps that we perceive in different circumstances of our lives (in excited moments of fear, in those of serenity or perfect solitude, when time seems to us to pass by too quickly or unbearably slowly, depending on the case) can be influenced precisely by the heartbeat , whose length is moreover variable from moment to moment.

As explains the New York Timesthe team of psychologists gave the student volunteers in the study electrocardiograms to precisely measure the length of each heartbeat, then asked them to estimate the duration of short audio tones. Psychologists found that after a longer heartbeat interval, subjects tended to perceive the tone given to them as more lasting as well. Conversely, shorter intervals led subjects to rate the tone as shorter. As general data, he explained Saeedeh Sadeghia Cornell graduate student and lead author of the study, after each tone in each case the subjects’ heartbeat intervals lengthened, and a lower heart rate appeared to aid perception.

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“When we need to perceive things from the outside world, heartbeats are noise for the cortex – explained Sadeghi – you can taste the world more, and it is easier to insert perceptions, when the heart is silent”. The NY Times remember that, after an era of research focused solely on the brain, the study actually confirms that there is no single part of the brain or body that keeps time. “It is a network – explained the expert – the brain controls the heart, and the heart, in turn, impacts the brain».

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Much of the interest in the perception of time, a classic theme that has always fascinated human beings, exploded during and shortly after the pandemic and the restrictive measures to combat Covid-19. One British study conducted during the first year of lockdown had, for example, discovered that 80% of the participants experienced time distortions of various kinds on a daily basis. On average, older, socially isolated people reported how time appeared to slow down while, unsurprisingly, for younger people, the pace increased in various ways.

“Our experience of time is influenced in ways that reflect our overall well-being,” he said Ruth S. Ogdenprofessor of psychology at Liverpool John Moores University and author of the British study – depressed people experience a slowing down of time and that slowing down of time is experienced as a factor in the worsening of depression». However, the Cornell study is slightly different: just try to estimate how we perceive the passing of milliseconds. An awareness that could help us understand the mechanisms underlying different conditions such as those traumatic, usually longer and richer in our memory than trivial and normal moments, left to flow without too many traces. Other investigations have investigated the perception of time in relation to the heartbeat, for example to investigate the word memory and our reactions to the stimuli they provoke us fear.

«I think there is a more robust assessment that cognitive functions are intimately linked to, perhaps even rooted in, control of the body, whereas most psychology until the 1990s dismissed the body as something controlled at the level of the body. brainstem,” he told the Big Apple newspaper Hugo Critchley, a psychiatrist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who was not involved in the study of the Cornell heartbeat but has in fact investigated the role of the heartbeat with respect to memory capacity. One of the reasons why bodily functions can appear so intimately involved in the perception of time is related to metabolic needs: «Time is a resource – he concluded Adam K. Anderson of Cornell, co-author of the new study – if the body were a battery or a petrol tank, at a specific moment it would say: how much energy do we have available? We’ll make things seem shorter or longer in terms of time based on how much body energy we have.”

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Source: Vanity Fair

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