Would you believe that the fluctuations of your heartbeat can affect your level of wisdom? A new study in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience suggests that wise judgment lies at the intersection of heart and mind — of physiology and cognition (Grossmann et al, 2016).
Researchers found that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability and identified conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. This study is the first to show that the physiology of the heart, specifically the variability of heart rate during low physical activity, is related to less biased, wiser judgment.
Wisdom may quite literally be a matter of heart and mind, as many poets and songwriters have suggested all along.
How do we define wise judgment? A growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines it as: the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge and acknowledge other points of view, awareness of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, and the ability to seek compromise or reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.
The study found that heart rate variation and thinking process work hand-in-hand to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. They found that people who have greater heart rate variability and are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.
How does the heart’s functioning impact the mind? Human heart rate tends to fluctuate, even during steady-state conditions, such as while we’re sitting. Heart rate variability is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and is related to the nervous system’s control of organ functions.
Researchers found that people with more varied heart rates were able to reason in a wiser, less biased fashion about societal problems when they were instructed to reflect on a social issue from a third-person perspective. But, when the study’s participants were instructed to reason about the issue from a first-person perspective, there was no relationship between heart rate and wiser judgment.
“We already knew that people with greater variation in their heart rate show superior performance in the brain’s executive functioning, such as working memory,” says Professor Igor Grossmann, co-author of the current study. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those people are wiser. In fact, some people may use their superior cognitive skills to make unwise decisions. “To channel their cognitive abilities for wiser judgment, people with greater heart rate variability first need to overcome their egocentric viewpoints,” Grossmann says.
So, how does this tie into meditation? At Sahaja, we’re big on qualities like wisdom and how to manage the ego. See how our Practitioner’s Journey looks like for more details.
Igor Grossmann, Baljinder K. Sahdra and Joseph Ciarrochi. A Heart and A Mind: Self-distancing Facilitates the Association Between Heart Rate Variability, and Wise Reasoning. Front. Behav. Neurosci., 08 April 2016.