Fear resides in heart as well as head

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 08, 2013 07:30 hrs

Fear may be felt in the heart as well as the head, a new study has claimed.

The study has found a link between the cycles of a beating heart and the likelihood of someone taking fright.

Tests on healthy volunteers found that they were more likely to feel a sense of fear at the moment when their hearts starts contracting and pumping blood around their bodies, compared with the time when the heartbeat is relaxed, the Independent reported.

According to the scientists, the results suggests that the heart is able to influence how the brain responds to a fearful event, depending on which point it is at in its regular cycle of contraction and relaxation.

The study tested the fear response of 20 healthy volunteers, as they were shown photos of fearful faces while connected to heart monitors.

Sarah Garfinkel, a researcher at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said that their results show that if an individual sees a fearful face during systole - when the heart is pumping - then they judge this fearful face as more intense than if they see the very same fearful face during diastole - when the heart is relaxed.

She said that from previous research, her team knew that if they presented images very fast then the would have trouble detecting them, but if an image is particularly emotional then it can literally "pop" out and be seen.

Garfinkel asserted that her team demonstrated that fearful faces are better detected at systole, when they are perceived as more fearful, relative to diastole.

To investigate the phenomenon further the researchers used a brain scanner to show how an almond-shaped region of the brain called the amygdale - sometimes called the "seat of emotion" - influences how the heart changes a person's perception of fear.

She said that the team identified an important mechanism by which the heart and brain "speak" to each other to change their emotions and reduce fear. (ANI)

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