Rhythm of Breathing Affects Memory and Fear
A study that reports how the rhythm of our breathing can influence neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgement
Breathe in. Breathe out. And prepare for a very, very cool study indeed! We absolutely love this one - a study that reports how the rhythm of our breathing can influence neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgement :) :)
We mention the amygdala a lot on this page, due to its central role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events - and hence its implication in the fear response. We could talk about the amygdala all day to be honest with you, but to stick to this study, scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing.
When faces were encountered during the inhalation, subjects recognised them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.
In an experiment aimed at assessing memory function — tied to the hippocampus — the same subjects were shown pictures of objects on a computer screen and told to remember them. Later, they were asked to recall those objects. Researchers found that recall was better if the images were encountered during inhalation. Professor Zelano explains, “If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster. As a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
Another potential insight of the research is on the basic mechanisms of meditation or focused breathing. “When you inhale, you are in a sense synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network,” Zelano noted.
How totally cool is this?! Please feel free to post your comments below. Happy inhalations (and exhalations) everyone!