"People's arousal turned out to be related to changes in their heart rate," Dunn said. "And this link was stronger in people who were more aware of their own heartbeat. So how people felt depended in part on how well they could sense the status of their own bodies."
"This suggests that what happens in our bodies really does shape how we feel emotionally," he said.
In a second experiment, the participants played a card game that emphasized intuition instead of strategy. "The quality of the advice that people's bodies gave them varied," Dunn said. "Some people's gut feelings were spot on, meaning they mastered the card game quickly. Other people's bodies told them exactly the wrong moves to make, so they learned slowly or never found a way to win. This link between gut feelings and intuitive decision making was stronger in people who were more aware of their own heartbeat."
What's the connection between the heart and brain? Dunn said one theory goes like this: "The 'emotional' parts of the brain generate the bodily response in the first place. The 'rational' parts of the brain then listen in to these bodily responses to find out what the 'emotional' parts of the brain are doing. This allows both logic and emotion to shape our choices."
Dunn said better understanding of the link between the body and the mind might eventually help people who struggle with depression and anxiety.
"We know that anxious people are hyper-aware of the body, whereas those who are depressed are out of touch with the body," he said. "Training the ability to tune in and out of the body may be beneficial for these individuals."
The study was published in the December issue of Psychological Science.
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