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PoiPoi's avatar

How does our body produce this gentle warm feeling in our chest, when we experience emotions like happiness, love, compassion, etc?

Asked by PoiPoi (274points) June 6th, 2008

I read this health article on, that explains that the heart can sense a human’s emotional state. In this part of the article it says, “Conversely, HeartMath’s research shows that when we experience heart-felt emotions like love, care, appreciation and compassion, the heart produces a very different rhythm. In this case it is a smooth pattern that looks like gently rolling hills. Harmonious heart rhythms, which reflect positive emotions, are considered to be indicators of cardiovascular efficiency and nervous system balance. This lets the brain know that the heart feels good and often (creates a gentle warm feeling in the area of the heart).” Do you have a scientific explanation for how this works and happens?

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11 Answers

seVen's avatar

there is no scientific explanation for Love, c’mon next thing those scientist will tell me I’m a primortial goo.

shilolo's avatar

According to the website of the company that promotes this product, they feel that there is a connection between the beat-to-beat variation in the interval between heart beats and emotions. I’m not sure I believe it. This wasn’t covered in medical school, nor in my cardiology training.

syz's avatar

I suspect the article is crediting the heart when is should be crediting the release of various hormones that are involved in emotions. There are well established correlations between hormones and feelings of love, well being, stress, anger, fear, and the subsequent brain wave activity.

wildflower's avatar

This should probably worry me, but I’m sure I get more of that warm feeling when I’m embarrassed or angry than any other time…

jballou's avatar

I’m pretty sure that if your EKG resembled gently rolling hills, you’d be having some sort of serious cardiac episode…

Several of my family members have had heart issues, and from what I understand any heart rhythm outside the normal thump-thump….. thump-thump you hear when you listen to a heartbeat can represent some serious problems.

I think the heart is more of a metaphorical representation of people’s emotions. Not all that long ago people generally thought that love was a function of the liver. Who knows what we’ll all believe in 100 years.

timothykinney's avatar

My uneducated (in anatomy) opinion is that the heart being the center of emotions is an arbitrary choice. This could stem from the fact that it pumps the blood and the rushing of blood is associated with blushing and with life/death. But it seems both unnecessary and counter-intuitive to seek emotions in the beating of the heart. We are better off looking at the frontal lobes of the brain, or just anywhere in the brain at all. We are better off looking at the various glands that produce hormones. We are better offer looking at the nervous system holistically. The heart pumps blood. It gets faster when more oxygen is needed. It gets slower when less oxygen is needed.

I think you may find some evidence of changes to the flow of blood in the body and to digestion based on emotional states, and this may be another reason why the heart has been considered the center of emotion. But feeling a pit in your stomach of a warm feeling across your chest are more likely to be the effect of hormones than just the activity of your heart.

Now, if someone can explain Qi, that would be something. :)

shilolo's avatar

@jballou. You are right about the fact that “gently rolling hills” on your electrocardiogram is very bad news. However, what this company does is convert the interval between beats into another algorithm that may look like gently rolling hills (since there is a natural variation in the beat-to-beat interval as a result of breathing). Mostly, if your breathing is erratic, the pattern on this companies device will be more erratic. Conversely, if you are relaxed and feeling good, there will be the “gently rolling hills” pattern. Frankly, this is probably just another gimmick.

Gigi's avatar

Hi all. Great dialogue. PoiPoi I have some info that might help answer your questions.
The company I believe you’re referring to is the Institute of HeartMath. I saw their research director speak at a conference a couple of years ago. There’s actually quite a bit of research on how positive emotions like love, care, appreciation and compassion have been shown to change heart rhythms, likewise negative emotions (anger, irritation, etc) can change heart rhythms. If you are really interested in this subject I can tell you that there are numerous research studies on the topic that have been published in peer-reviewed journals such as American Journal of Cardiology, Preventive Cardiology, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, etc. I’d also recommend a couple science monographs that I read (found them on the site). One is called the Appreciative Heart the other one is called the Coherent Heart. You might also enjoy the book called The Psychology of Gratitude by Robert A. Emmons, Michael E. McCullough (I believe it’s an Oxford Press title)—the book goes into some info about how emotions and the heart are connected.

shilolo's avatar

While I don’t doubt that getting excited, angry, mad might release neurotransmitters or hormones to increase inotropy (contractility of the heart, i.e. how hard it squeezes) or chronotropy (how fast or slow it beats), and conversely, that relaxing “emotions” might do the opposite, I think the heartmath website is clearly biased towards selling a product, as I alluded earlier. Yet another gimmick.

Gigi's avatar

You’re entitled.

shilolo's avatar

Um, OK, thanks?

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