News: People unconsciously synchronize breathing, heart beat and other bodily functions when having a personal conversation or sharing experiences with others. A New study published in the journal Cell Reports, revealed that people’s heart rate synchronises even if they are listening attentively to stories by themselves.
The research team conducted a series of four experiments to explore the role of consciousness and attention in synchronizing participants’ heart rates. In the first experiment, healthy volunteers listened to an audiobook of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The researchers found that the majority of subjects showed increases and decreases in their heart rate (as measured by electrocardiogram EKG) at the same points in the narrative, based on what was happening in the story.
In the second experiment, volunteers watched short instructional and educational videos with no underlying emotional variations. As long as participants paid attention to study their heart rates showed fluctuations and later dropped when the participants lacked attention. This experiment confirmed that paying attention is important for heart rate synchronization and emotional engagement in a story plays no role in it.
The third experiment involves listening to short children’s stories. Some participants were attentive, while others were distracted, and then were asked to recall facts from the stories. The researchers found that more synchronization predicted better test scores. This indicated that changes in heart rate were a signal of conscious processing of the narrative. However, researchers didn’t find the same synchronization among the subjects when they looked at the changes in breathing rates, which affect heart rates.
In the fourth experiment, the researchers included both healthy volunteers and patients with disorders of consciousness — such as those in comas or persistent vegetative states. All the participants listened to an audiobook of a children’s story. The patients had lower rates of heart synchronization than did healthy controls. When the patients were examined six months later, some of them with higher synchronization had regained some consciousness.
Previous studies showed that when two people are physically present in the same place, they synchronize their physiology with each other. In the new study researchers observed that this phenomenon is broader. “And that simply following a story and processing stimulus will cause similar fluctuations in people’s heart rates. It’s the cognitive function that drives your heart rate up or down,“ says co-senior author Lucas Parra. “What’s important is that the listener is paying attention to the actions in the story,” adds co-senior author Jacobo Sitt
“This research is a step in the direction of looking at the brain-body connection more broadly, in terms of how the brain affects the body,” says Parra.
To Know More You May Refer To:
Pérez, P., Madsen, J., Banellis, L., Türker, B., Raimondo, F., Perlbarg, V., Valente, M., Niérat, M., Puybasset, L., Naccache, L., Similowski, T., Cruse, D., Parra, L. C., & Sitt, J. D. (2021). Conscious processing of narrative stimuli synchronizes heart rate between individuals. Cell Reports, 36(11), 109692. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109692