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Andrew Leader

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How are different body parts connected to the emotions we traditionally associate with them?

This week in my bioelectricity class, I learned about cardiac electrophysiology. Afterwords, I read an article about the growing field of neurocardiology: http://madurasinghe.blogspot.com/2008/06/neurocardiology-brain-in-heart.html. The heart’s nervous system contains over 40,000 neurons, and is sufficiently complex that it is referred to by some as its own “little-brain”. This little-brain communicates directly with the medulla in the brain-stem, both sending and receiving signals that have to do with hart rate, hormones, chemicals, and pressure in the heart. These signals help regulate other signals to blood vessels, glands and other organs, but they also “cascade up into the higher centers of the brain, where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes.”

This article made me wonder: Does perhaps the term “thinking with your heart” have a biological basis after all? How did the heart become the symbol of love? How might this association relate to the connection between emotion and heart health, and what makes up this connection in the first place?

To explore the biological basis of emotional experience, particularly as we traditionally associate these experiences with different parts of the body, I also watched the TED talk “Trust, Morality – and Oxytocin” (http://blog.ted.com/2011/11/01/trust-morality-and-oxytocin-paul-zak-on-ted-com/), in which Paul Zak talks about how oxytocin (a mammalian hormone) increases trustworthiness, generosity, empathy, while oxytocin release is inhibited by high stress.

And so I ask the TED Community: What connections might exist between body parts and the meanings we associate with them? For example, when we say we have a “gut feeling,” how might it relate to the activity of our autonomic nervous system on the GI tract? What about the emotional meanings we associate with the eyes, mouth, hands, and so on? Could age-old associations between body parts and emotion be rooted in biology?

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    Mar 26 2012: I'm surprised no one has yet brought up the obvious example of a polygraph. While still not considered completely accurate, a polygraph uses biological responses (heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance) to try to infer a person's emotional state. When we are nervous, scared, or in pain, that emotional state in manifested in our entire body.
    • Mar 26 2012: We can't think of everything Nicolette! Good point though!
      Another thing that came to mind for me is what they call Sensory Deprivation Tanks. Surf in on youtube and you can hear how people have OBE's using such tanks. I don't propose trying it. But just the same, there seems to something happening here ... and we don't know what it is... The "self" seems to slip out of the body. We loose contact with the "here and now" and slip into an alternate form of consciousness that could be compared with a NDE. So the body, its form, its sensory experiences, more or less conscious (for example atmospheric pressure) hold us in our body. The relaxation that takes place in the tank loosens our consciousness from its physical bondage.......

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