The Science of Neurocardiology
At Possiblio, learning is designed with the heart.
For most of our known history, we have given the brain much of the credit for what we know, who we are and why we react and respond in the way we do. Anecdotally, many of us know our bodies respond to emotions and feelings, but science tells us that this phenomenon stems from the brain itself. Well, science is now a little unsure of itself...
The Heartful Mind
Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.”
Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. The nervous system within the heart (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing.
So How Does This Affect Learning?
In addition to the extensive neural communication network linking the heart with the brain and body, the heart also communicates information to the brain and throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. Compared to the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, the electrical component of the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers.
The heart generates a continuous series of electromagnetic pulses in which the time interval between each beat varies in a dynamic and complex manner. The heart’s ever-present rhythmic field has a powerful influence on processes throughout the body. Researchers have demonstrated, for example, that brain rhythms naturally synchronize to the heart’s rhythmic activity, and also that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the blood pressure and respiratory rhythms, among other oscillatory systems, entrain to the heart’s rhythm.
The ramifications for learning are substantial and far-reaching. From childhood, we are natural learners, learning and absorbing at a fantastic rate for our first few years of life. When we reach school however, many of us begin to develop a different attitude to learning. We are set against other children in competitions, told that we are "good" at some subjects but "bad" at others, are graded and possibly even streamed into groups based on how "smart" we are. The education system many of us have grown up with has created an attitude and emotional reaction to learning that for many can dictate the course of the rest of their adult lives. If we can learn more about this phenomenon and most importantly, begin to address this by truly connecting with people when we train or teach them - we may unlock hidden potential and unrealised attributes long hidden by a screen of ideals, beliefs and judgments made many decades earlier.
Are Your Brain and Body Led By Your Heart?
Learning and development professionals are all familiar with the characteristics of the adult learner. Are these characteristics truly a reflection of how adults like to learn, or are they how we must approach adults due to their experiences in classrooms as children? Possiblio is about asking these questions, creating learning that appreciates, acknowledges and respects the learner and above all, brings more "heart" to adult learning.
Researchers now believe that the heart’s field acts as a carrier wave for information that provides a global synchronizing signal for the entire body. Specifically, they suggest that as pulsing waves of energy radiate out from the heart, they interact with organs and other structures. The waves encode or record the features and dynamic activity of these structures in patterns of energy waveforms that are distributed throughout the body. In this way, the encoded information acts to in-form (literally, give shape to) the activity of all bodily functions—to coordinate and synchronize processes in the body as a whole. This perspective requires an energetic concept of information, in which patterns of organization are enfolded into waves of energy of system activity distributed throughout the system as a whole.
What Does The Research Tell Us?
Research conducted at the Institute of HeartMath shows that information pertaining to a person’s emotional state is also communicated throughout the body via the heart’s electromagnetic field. The rhythmic beating patterns of the heart change significantly as we experience different emotions. Negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, are associated with an erratic, disordered, incoherent pattern in the heart’s rhythms. In contrast, positive states, such as love or appreciation, are associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern in the heart’s rhythmic activity. In turn, these changes in the heart’s beating patterns create corresponding changes in the structure of the electromagnetic field radiated by the heart, measurable by a technique called spectral analysis.
More specifically, they have demonstrated that sustained positive emotions appear to give rise to a distinct mode of functioning, called psychophysiological coherence. During this mode, heart rhythms exhibit a sine wave-like pattern and the heart’s electromagnetic field becomes correspondingly more organized.At the physiological level, this mode is characterized by increased efficiency and harmony in the activity and interactions of the body’s systems.
Psychologically, this mode is linked with a notable reduction in internal mental dialogue, reduced perceptions of stress, increased emotional balance, and enhanced mental clarity, intuitive discernment, and cognitive performance.
This means more effective learning and a more harmonious environment in which to do it. Hardly rocket science is it?
In sum, the research suggests that psychophysiological coherence is important in enhancing consciousness—both for the body’s sensory awareness of the information required to execute and coordinate physiological function, and also to optimise emotional stability, mental function, and intentional action. Furthermore, there is experimental evidence that psychophysiological coherence may increase our awareness of and sensitivity to others around us.
What About In The Workplace or Classroom?
Most people think of social communication solely in terms of overt signals expressed through language, voice qualities, gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. However, there is now evidence that a subtle yet influential electromagnetic or “energetic” communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. Energetic interactions likely contribute to the “magnetic” attractions or repulsions that occur between individuals, and also affect social exchanges and relationships. Moreover, it appears that the heart’s field plays an important role in communicating physiological, psychological, and social information between individuals.
Experiments conducted at the Institute of HeartMath have found remarkable evidence that the heart’s electromagnetic field can transmit information between people. They have been able to measure an exchange of heart energy between individuals up to 5 feet apart. We have also found that one person’s brain waves can actually synchronise to another person’s heart. Furthermore, when an individual is generating a coherent heart rhythm, synchronization between that person’s brain waves and another person’s heartbeat is more likely to occur. These findings have intriguing implications, suggesting that individuals in a psychophysiologically coherent state become more aware of the information encoded in the heart fields of those around them. Imagine the responsibility of knowing this to be true?
The results of these experiments have led them to infer that the nervous system acts as an “antenna,” which is tuned to and responds to the electromagnetic fields produced by the hearts of other individuals. This capacity for exchange of energetic information is an innate ability that heightens awareness and mediates important aspects of true empathy and sensitivity to others.
Furthermore, they have observed that this energetic communication ability can be intentionally enhanced, producing a much deeper level of nonverbal communication, understanding, and connection between people. There is also intriguing evidence that heart field interactions can occur between people and animals.In short, energetic communication via the heart field facilitates development of an expanded consciousness in relation to our social world.
The Heart’s Field and Intuition
There are also new data suggesting that the heart’s field is directly involved in intuitive perception, through its coupling to an energetic information field outside the bounds of space and time. Using a rigorous experimental design, researchers found compelling evidence that both the heart and brain receive and respond to information about a future event before the event actually happens. Even more surprising was the finding that the heart appears to receive this “intuitive” information before the brain. This suggests that the heart’s field may be linked to a more subtle energetic field that contains information on objects and events remote in space or ahead in time. Called by Karl Pribram and others the “spectral domain,” this is a fundamental order of potential energy that enfolds space and time, and is thought to be the basis for our consciousness of “the whole.” (See heartmath.org for further detail.)
In the same way that the heart generates energy in the body, we propose that the social collective is the activator and regulator of the energy in social systems.
A body of groundbreaking work shows how the field of socioemotional interaction between a mother and her infant is essential to brain development, the emergence of consciousness, and the formation of a healthy self-concept. These interactions are organised along two relational dimensions—stimulation of the baby’s emotions, and regulation of shared emotional energy. Together they form a socioemotional field through which enormous quantities of psychobiological and psychosocial information are exchanged. Coherent organization of the mother-child relations that make up this field is critical. This occurs when interactions are charged, most importantly, with positive states (love, joy, happiness, excitement, appreciation, etc.), and are patterned as highly synchronised, reciprocal exchanges between these two individuals. These patterns are imprinted in the child’s brain and thus influence psychosocial function throughout life. (See Allan Schore, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self.)
Moreover in a longitudinal study of 46 social groups, one of us (RTB) documented how information about the global organization of a group—the group’s collective consciousness - appears to be transmitted to all members by an energetic field of socio-emotional connection. Data on the relationships between each pair of members was found to provide an accurate image of the social structure of the group as a whole. Coherent organization of the group’s social structure is associated with a network of positively charged emotions (love, excitement, and optimism) connecting all members. This network of positive emotions appears to constitute a field of energetic connection into which information about the group’s social structure is encoded and distributed throughout the group. Remarkably, an accurate picture of the group’s overall social structure was obtained from information only about relationships between pairs of individuals. Research shows that the only way this is possible is if information about the organization of the whole group is distributed to all members of the group via an energetic field. Such correspondence in information between parts and the whole is consistent with the principle of holographic organization.
Synthesis and Implications
Some organising features of the heart field, identified in numerous studies at HeartMath, may also be shared by those of the hypothesised social field. Each is a field of energy in which the waveforms of energy encode the features of objects and events as energy moves throughout the system. This creates a nonlocal order of energetic information in which each location in the field contains an enfolded image of the organization of the whole system at that moment. The organization and processing of information in these energy fields can best be understood in terms of quantum holographic principles.
Another commonality is the role of positive emotions, such as love and appreciation, in generating coherence both in the heart field and in social fields. When the movement of energy is intentionally regulated to form a coherent, harmonious order, information integrity and flow are optimized. This, in turn, produces stable, effective system function, which enhances health, psychosocial well-being, and intentional action in the individual or social group.
Heart coherence and social coherence may also act to mutually reinforce each other. As individuals within a group increase psychophysiological coherence, psychosocial attunement may be increased, thereby increasing the coherence of social relations. Similarly, the creation of a coherent social field by a group may help support the generation and maintenance of psychophysiological coherence in its individual members. An expanded, deepened awareness and consciousness results—of the body’s internal physiological, emotional, and mental processes, and also of the deeper, latent orders enfolded into the energy fields that surround us.
This is the basis of self-awareness, social sensitivity, creativity, intuition, soulful insight, and understanding of ourselves and all that we are connected to. It is through the intentional generation of coherence in both heart and social fields that a critical shift to the next level of planetary consciousness can occur—one that brings us into harmony with the movement of the whole.
The above is based on research conducted by the Institute of HeartMath, USA.