Scientists have found that people’s bodily functions – including their heart rate and breathing – subconsciously synchronize when they share an experience.
This experience can be shared even if people are far from each other, as long as they listen intently to the story or watch a performance, according to a new article published in the journal Cell Reports.
The research, conducted by scientists at the City University of New York, adds to information demonstrating a similar timing, but challenges the hypothesis that this was based on people in the same physical space interacting in a way or another.
“What we found is that the phenomenon is much broader and that just following a story and processing a stimulus will cause similar fluctuations in people’s heart rates. It is cognitive function that increases or your heart rate decreases, ”explained Professor Lucas Parra.
Professor Parra, co-lead author of the study, from City College of New York, worked with a researcher from the Paris Brain Institute to find out how these shared experiences develop.
“What is important is that the listener pays attention to the actions of the story,” adds co-lead author Jacobo Sitt. “It’s not about emotions, it’s about being engaged and mindful, and thinking about what’s going to happen next. Your heart is responding to these signals from the brain.”
The team conducted a number of experiments to explore the role that consciousness plays when it comes to synchronizing an audience’s heart rates.
In the first experiment, volunteers listened to an audio book of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” while hooked up to an EKG machine.
As they listened, their heart rate changed depending on what was happening in the story, and the researchers found that the majority had increases and decreases in their heart rate at the same points in the story. .
In the second experiment, the volunteers watched short instructional videos without any emotional content, and the researchers found that their heart rates again shared similar changes.
Next, participants were invited to review the videos but this time counting down in their heads, which caused the heart rate synchronization to drop, confirming the importance of attention.
In a third experiment, the subjects listened to children’s stories, some while they were attentive and others while they were distracted, and were asked to recall facts from the stories, and they found that ‘greater synchronization meant better recall.
Professor Parra said this research is also important for understanding mindfulness and the connection between the brain and the body.
“Neuroscience is opening up in terms of designing the brain as part of an actual physical and anatomical body,” he said. “This research is a step in the direction of a broader examination of the brain-body connection, in terms of how the brain affects the body.”