People can tell how fast your heart is beating just by looking at you

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(ORDO NEWS) — At the beginning of the 1982 film Blade Runner, a character named Leon undergoes a tense interview to determine if he is a replicant (a bioengineered humanoid).

The viewer understands that this is a tense moment, by the way Leon behaves, as well as by a subtle background noise: the beating of his heart. As Leon gets more and more nervous, the sound of his heartbeat matches his concern.

The sound of a beating heart is often added to films to enhance the emotional intensity, because our pulse is connected to our feelings. If you have a fast heartbeat, it means that emotions are most likely at a high level.

However, in real life, unless someone is taking your pulse, a heartbeat is usually a signal that only you know about.

A new study published in the journal Cortex shows that this is not always the case: People could guess who had a pulse just by watching a 10-second video of his face, and they did so at a speed far beyond what could be explained by chance.

Given the connection of the heart with emotional states, this raises intriguing questions in the field of interoception – what is the name of the ability to feel the beating of the heart along with other physical sensations in the body.

(Interoception is the opposite of receiving and processing signals from the outside world, which is called exteroception.)

By its very definition, interoception is usually considered in relation to individuals: It encompasses the physical sensations of one’s own body. This study uncovered a case where people visually perceive the interoception of another person – and such a discovery could have implications for how we relate to each other and feel what each of us feels.

At a basic level, interoception helps our brains keep our bodies alive; that’s how we know we’re cold or hungry. But these same physical sensations have a complex interaction with our emotions and thoughts.

We use our body signals as part of the scaffolding for our emotional states, says James Kilner, a neuroscientist at University College London and senior author on the new paper. All our internal signals taken together tell us how we feel.

For example, our heart usually reacts very strongly to certain emotional states. Perhaps that is why we have a lot of emotional sayings in which the heart appears, for example, “my heart skipped a beat” or “with all my heart.”

Neurologist Sarah Garfinkel studies how our heartbeat is related to our mental state and has found that heartbeat can influence how you feel and how intensely you feel it.

How accurately a person feels their heartbeat, or how accurately they think they feel it, can be linked to various mental illnesses. For example, misjudgment of interoceptive accuracy is associated with anxiety, and interoceptive deficits are seen in panic disorder, eating disorders, or depression.

Alex Galvez-Paul, first author of the paper in the journal Cortex and a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of the Balearic Islands, said he and Kilner wondered if humans could pick up the interoception of others, given that humans are such social animals.

People don’t talk about how they feel every second you’re around them, so we often need to infer other people’s moods based on visual cues.

“Perhaps [the heartbeat] works more or less as a kind of beacon, signaling to others about our feelings,” Galves-Paul said.

In the study, 120 participants watched 10-second videos of two people standing side by side, paired with a visual display of the heartbeat of just one of them.

They were then asked to choose the person they thought matched the heartbeat. In repeated experiments, people were able to get it right much more often than would be expected by chance.

We use our heartbeat, along with other internal signals, to shape our perceptions of emotions. If we have access to the same signal from someone else, perhaps this is one way to understand the emotional state of other people?

Manos Tsakiris, professor of psychology at Royal Holloway University of London and director of the Center for the Politics of Feelings, believes that knowing another person’s pulse can play a role in determining some basic aspects of other people’s emotional state.

This can be called reading the body, not the mind: If we can correctly guess what people feel inside their body, this is another clue about how they feel in general. In this study, the people in the video did not show dramatic emotions, but this may be possible in future studies.

Sahib Khalsa, a neuroscientist at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Oklahoma who was not involved in the new paper, said that while the findings do not change his understanding of interoception, they offer some first evidence of how such signals can be used to interpret the condition. other people.

The authors don’t know exactly how the participants guessed whose pulse belonged to which person, but found that their ability to do so decreased when the person’s face changed, such as when they were placed upside down or when they were shown a still image instead of a video.

Perhaps people pick up subtle visual cues associated with the heartbeat, such as changes in a person’s complexion or the way they move. Perhaps people also make assumptions based on a person’s gender, perceived health status, fitness level, or age.

These associations are very interesting, Kilner said – where did they come from and where did we learn them? This highlights that there is a strong relationship between how people think about what goes on in the body and how that applies to the person as a whole.”

An article posted online March 29 reproduced the finding that people can guess another person’s heartbeat just by looking at it. The researchers, with first author Irena Arslanova, made an additional measurement: They also tested how well people judge their own heart rate, or their interoceptive accuracy.

To do this, people are often asked to count their own heartbeats without measuring the pulse, and then compare their sensations with the number of heartbeats.

They found that people who overestimated their own interoceptive accuracy were worse at guessing other people’s pulses by looking at them.

People who underestimated their interoceptive abilities showed no such association. This is a preprint, so these results should be considered preliminary and subject to revision after review, but are consistent with previous work that found that lower interoceptive accuracy may have a “leaky” effect.

Tsakiris, senior author of the preprint, said the findings add to a growing body of research that shows metacognition, or critical awareness of one’s skills and abilities, is essential. “Whether you’re good or bad at something, it’s important to know if you’re good or bad,” he said.

If you think you’re good at something, it can lead you to do something. wrong assumptions rather than revisiting them. Knowing that you’re doing something poorly can make you be more careful and get more information before making a judgment.”

We already know that people with higher interoceptive fidelity can experience their emotions more intensely. In 2018, Tsakiris and Claire Palmer wrote a paper suggesting that interoceptive accuracy may be related to social cognitive skills such as recognizing other people’s emotions and guessing how other people are feeling.

People with anxiety are more likely to think that they feel very good about their body, but in fact this is not the case. “You may think you’re doing great,” Garfinkel told VICE in a 2020 interview.

“But when we test you in the lab, your accuracy can be quite low.” Khalsa found, and recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, that people with generalized anxiety disorder have an association with low interoceptive ability.

Kilner said it makes sense to him that how well you can feel your own internal states probably has some bearing on how well you can access that information from other people. “It would be very strange if you could not use your own signals, but at the same time read other people’s signals brilliantly, it would look illogical.”

When we ask “what is interoception for”, it may turn out that it is needed not only to keep our body alive, but also to understand how other people and the social world make us feel.

Of course, if someone were very frightened or furious, we would most likely use other visual cues to determine their emotional state rather than trying to gauge their heartbeat.

This is a more subtle signal. Importantly, Khalsa says whether this signal is indeed related to emotional state detection remains to be seen in further experiments.

For now, the new research just shows that we can do it, which raises interesting questions, Kilner said, such as how people use this ability and whether people who are better at it are also better at recognizing other people’s emotions.

“It would be interesting to know if those people who are very good at these tasks have better social skills, empathy skills, etc.,” Kilner said. “We don’t know if that’s the case, but there are definitely people who can do these tasks very, very well.”

And things get even more interesting when we consider the moments when we want to hide our emotional state from others. “Perhaps you want to appear confident, but in fact you are nervous,” says Kilner.

There were times when, according to Kilner, when meeting a new person, he had a funny feeling that something was not quite right. “I think maybe it’s because their inner state and what they’re trying to present contradict each other,” he said.


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