For those that believe true wisdom comes from the heart may actually not be far from the truth. A new study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience that suggests heart rate variation and thinking processes actually work together to create wise reasoning and the understanding of complex social issues.
What The Study Involved
The study was carried out by Igor Grossmann, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Canada and his colleagues at the Australian Catholic University. They wanted to find out whether or not wisdom has purely to do with cognitive reasoning or if something else was at play.
The team used 150 participants from a Sydney university with the average age of 25 and asked them to take part in several tasks including tasks that involved social reasoning and attributional judgement. The participants were required to give their opinions on subjects they felt strongly about from two perspectives; the first person (in a personal manner) and third person (as a critical observer). They were then monitored for their resting heart rate variability throughout the task using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and all experiments were conducted during low physical activity.
Heart rates vary naturally at any given time; even when we’re sitting down and resting. The variations between heartbeats are directly linked to the nervous system’s controlling ability of organ functions. However, for various reasons some people’s heart rates vary much more than others.
What the researchers found from the results of the experiment was surprising: the participants who discussed the topics with a third-person perspective and possessed a greater heart rate variation were found to have a wiser and less biased view than those that had a smaller heart rate variation.
However this changed when the first-person perspective was used where they discovered that there was no indication of a link between heart rate variation and wiser judgement.
What Does This Mean?
This is the first study to show that the physiology of the heart and, in particular, heart rate variations are related to less biased, wiser judgment and reasoning.
It has already been discovered through previous studies that people with a higher heart rate variation tend to have a better ability in the use of memory. Professor Grossman explains that the study shows that cognitive ability isn’t the only element at play when it comes to being wise:
“Research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability. We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean people with a greater heart rate variation are automatically wiser than others. People need to learn and take time to reflect on altruistic issues that come with third-person perspectives and reasoning in order to achieve the ability to possess wiser judgement.
“To channel their cognitive abilities for wiser judgement, people with greater heart rate variability first need to overcome their egocentric viewpoints.”
Either way, the study is an interesting insight into the relationship between physiology and cognitive understanding which will no doubt lead the way to further research into how the heart’s functioning really does impact the mind.
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