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: 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” (, 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?

  • Mar 22 2012:

    Hello Andrew,

    Take a look at this link
    For the organ of the heart
    may be more than we think.
    To feel with the heart is no silly notion
    For the heart is truly the seat of of our emotion
    ..and to one who makes music,
    I'm sure you will find
    That the music you love
    moves your heart
    as much as your mind.
    So when you make that chord
    ...and you sing that tune
    The reflection in your heart
    is like the reflection of the moon
    From your head to your hand
    Your heart beats like the drum
    .. and your voice is just an echo
    of where the music's comin' from
    The tone is coming from the Cosmic Sphere
    Although the sound of your strings we hear
    The mirror of your voice is like the mirror of your mind
    Let your heart fill the path with the light that you find
    So follow your heart dear Andrew
    It "knows" what is right
    Light a million candles on your way
    To lead us through the night
    ... a candle here.... a candle there
    We all must play our part
    ... and know that love is something
    that comes from deep inside the heart.
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      Mar 22 2012: This is great. No offense to Christophe or Santiago, but I think you win the best response so far competition!

      I'll take a look at that link
      and let you know what I think.

      ...That's about as far as I'll endeavor with the poetry for now. Perhaps if you keep up with how the conversation progresses, you'll see some more from me.

      Thanks, Daniel.
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      Mar 22 2012: This is a touching story, Daniel! I've never stopped and thought about what it must actually be like to receive an organ. The best piece of art/literature that I've ever come across concerning organ donation is the Will Smith movie 7 Pounds. I highly suggest it if you ever get the chance to watch it.
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    Mar 22 2012: Check out the heart math institute at; the heart sends out much more energy than the brain, affecting not only our systems but our surrounding organic life forms.

    Greg Braden has written on this along with many others, you might care to google Belief is expressed in our heart where our experiences are translated into the electrical and magnetic waves that interact with the physical world; Greg Braden, from his book Spontaneous Healing of Belief.


    THE HEART IS the physical center of the circulatory system, managing over 75 trillion cells. It is also the electromagnetic center of the body, emanating thousands of times more electricity and magnetism than does the brain. Even more impressively, it is an organ of communication that can potentially manage the body's intuitive processes.

    The heart's electromagnetic field (EMF) is five thousand times stronger than that of the brain. Its electrical field is sixty times greater than that of the brain. Not only is its electromagnetic capacity greater than that of the brain, but it is organically capable of performing certain brain-like functions. In fact, between 60 and 65 percent of its cells are neural, identical to those present in the brain. Energy-information that vibrates-flows constantly between the heart and the brain, assisting with emotional processing, sensory experience, memory and derivation of meaning from events, and reasoning. In addition, the heart is one of the body's major endocrine glands, producing at least five major hormones, which impact the physiological functions of the brain and body.

    The heart has long been known as the center of the body, as well as the home of the soul. Under the correct conditions, such as when a person consciously "centers" or focuses in the heart, the heart begins to run the brain. (Most typically, the brain runs the body.) see
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    Mar 23 2012: This is the 4th and final instalment. Please start with 1...
    With an SRS that is stuck, and with stored emotions and experiences, you are limited in your appropriate responses to the here-and-now. You can’t follow your heart, cause the heart itself is strung up by the heart protector. In the absence of guidance from the heart, the cortex takes over. You start doing what you THINK is good for you, rather than what is good for you. Whole different energy.
    The gut, too, is lined with finely tuned nervous tissue. It, too, stores memories and is programmed to warn you for safe/unsafe situations.
    As to Love, what is that? I think it is one of the names for what sheer Life Energy (chi, prana) does for you. It’s the feeling that arises when you are very much aware of being alive (a biological being!) at all! What a miracle!
    (Which, unfortunately, you can only fully enjoy when you are not stuck in old patterns acquired by your SRS along the way. Which, fortunately, can be achieved by “rebooting” your SRS and putting your old pain patterns out (which may take some time, but it is concrete and absolutely satisfying).)

    Suggestions for further exploring – some snippets, get the books!
    PS These people are medical doctors and scientists...

    Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine, check
    Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, check
    Cell Talk, in which it is explained that you can get into touch with your body to the level of individual cells to find out what is going on. Written by John Upledger.
    Deepak Chopra on heart health, check and his book about the heart
    What are your organs talking about? Jean Pierre Barral, check
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    Mar 27 2012: Hi Andrew!!!!!!!!!!

    The first thing I want to say is probably off topic but it is something that I always tend to do or notice. I tend to look at person’s hands and fingers. I do not know if there is a common association with fingers but finger types and shapes can determine what a person is interested in or capable of doing. Long, slender fingers can signify a musician’s hand. I guess the length enables proficient musicians to reach certain keys or strings, etc. that others cannot.

    Anyway back to your question, the one of the first things that came to my mind is something that my dad says when I am looking for something that I have misplaced, “Look with your eyes and not with your mouth.” I know it sounds incredibly silly because you cannot see with your mouth. The only connection I can make with your question is that this saying tells me that if multiple sensory parts are active, it is difficult to be aware of all of them maybe due to signal interference. For those who lose a sense, the others become more sensitive and stronger.
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      Mar 27 2012: The first thing that came to my mind when reading this question was the phantom sensations felt by those who had lost a limb. Feelings generated by the remaining nerve endings being stimulated accidentally by other neurons firing nearby. However, in many ways this is still very interesting because lets say in the case of someone who has lost there arm, they feel their hand even though they no longer have it. In this case the wires (neurons) are not re-purposed (neuroplasticity) and the sensation remains that of the lost extremity. It is as if all of the wiring and feeling of that part of the nervous system belongs to the hand whether attached or not. So all in all the connection between body parts and feelings (in this case not emotions) is very direct.
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    Mar 27 2012: Wow those are actually good questions you got there. Made me think as well. Hmmm the simplest thing I can answer to your first and last question (last paragraph) is based on experience: Associations between body parts and emotions ARE rooted in biology. But this is of course, the simplest opinion I got in my hat.

    Human, as time molds them, just became more and more refined with how they put their emotions to literal meaning. For example, a "Heartbreak". For people who experienced it, they (including I) will say that it does feel as though their heart is breaking or being cracked open. Piercing pain and lost of proper reaction as rapidly associated to it. So yes, human beings just became so good with their sense of identifying what they really felt inside I suppose.

    About your second question, based on the article you read, it is as though our organs have their own brains, own reflex system. Since the external physical body parts such as eyes, nose, hands, so on are connected to our "gut" as outside communication means, it just pretty much apply similar to the initial idea. Maybe your question here is, "SHOULD we consider those external physical body parts included in the "organs" you specified."

    This is very interesting Andrew. Thanks!
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      Mar 27 2012: This is a very interesting point Riela. It made me think that maybe this is a feedback loop in which we don't really see its beginning. Once an idea is accepted that a body part, such as the heart, is connected to an emotion, the brain then goes on to implement pathways that mirror this belief. So if nervousness is associated with butterflies in the stomach, one might actually pick up signals that induce the familiar feeling of a roiling stomach.

      I suppose one way to test out this theory is to plant a certain type of emotion or feeling connected with an event and associated with a body part. It has to be completely novel to the person and completely accepted as a relevant and meaningful connection. Then one would induce this feeling or event and monitor the signals between the brain and the body part. This would be a very difficult study to implement because you are dealing with a mind-game in a subject. Even then, there may be body parts, such as eyes (as was mentioned below), that carry an innate connection to an emotion. We are born and without any prompting, we fasten our attention on other people's eyes, their windows to the soul.
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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.......
  • Jaana T

    • +2
    Mar 24 2012: I've discovered a lot of those insightful sayings while reading about the history of my language. We don't pay attention to it but ordinary everyday language contains numerous ancient expressions, that very often make a connection to the 'supernatural' in the similar way you referred in your post, eg "stiff necked" is what we use for "stubborn" and it was genuinly believed that stubborn people have stiff necks. In any case, knowing about the past of your language helps you to understand your ancestors and the belief system they lived in.

    Some examples of sayings in Estonian going back as far as the Ice-age:

    - the referrals to hand: "in the hand of the cold/sun/rain/wind" / "he was bitten from the hands of dogs" / "to order" = "to give order's with ones hand"...
    Explanation: power over human beings was symbolised by a hand. The hand in all those expressions always occurs in singular which was the integral part of our ancestors that everything formed a whole, also the paired parts of body which were always used in singular. If one wanted to talk about 1 hand, they had to say "half a hand"

    - use of body parts as spatial references: "on the ear" = next to / "on the head" = on top / "on the root" = nearby. I've heard that aborigines are able to know cardinal points at all times, so they will use "to the south" instead of "to my right" etc. Kind of cool if you think about it...
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      Mar 24 2012: Hi Jaana, thanks for the response!

      Concerning the origin of these parts of language, I hadn't even considered belief systems. When you think about it though, it makes a lot of sense: Just think about how often people make reference to the New Testament in predominantly Christian societies in everyday language. Next time someone sneezes, rather than saying "Bless you!" I'll try saying "Sorry your nose feels weird!" and see how that goes over.

      But of course you can tell that, as a Science and Engineering Student, my interests lie predominantly in the hints that language and emotion can give us about the body and biology and vice-versa. Given that we, here, are drawing a strong connection between language and religion, would it be too completely heretical of me to ask if there is a connection between someone's belief system and biology?

      Before you jump out of your seat, no, I'm not claiming that the Bible was just people's minds playing tricks on themselves. There's a body of anthropological research pointing to a natural human tendency to have some form of religion, supernatural beliefs, etc. This is a rhetorical question because I don't think Science is at a place where we can answer it, nor would it be proper of us to speculate here, but does Biology play a role in this human tendency toward religion? If so, via what mechanism? Does it also exist in animals?
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    Mar 23 2012: This is instalment 2. Please start with 1...
    In the Zak-video you post a link to, it is said that oxytocin is the foundation for trust. Indeed: there is a specific area in the brain called cingulate gyrus that is activated right after birth by sounds that make the newborn feel safe and welcome after its ordeal in the birth canal. If that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason, the mammalian and human brains are not correctly jump started and the child will be fearful and untrusting, having a hard time fulfilling its complete potential. It’s one way in which our system can get stuck in an “unsafe” mode. Any overwhelming situation may do it, even the Moro reflex test done on newborn infants.
    Let me give you an example of stuckness. I was loped down by a German shepherd when I was 4. It was larger and heavier than I was. It may have wanted to play; whatever its intentions, it trampled my thorax. Forever after, one bark of a dog, or one sighting of one caused my SRS to be on the highest possible alert. Not an appropriate response, but a conditioned one; I would freeze in terror, convinced that I did not understand dogs and hence would die: my mom had told me that I shouldn’t have run away. Only at 48, things began to change when I learnt how to get into touch with the brain and body parts involved in the SRS (which you can Google, by the way ;-), it involves thalamus, amygdala, hippocampi, hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals, locus ceruleus, raphe nuclei, and many more).
    One part of the stress response system is the pericardium, the heart protector in Chinese Medicine. When you experience emotional pain, it contracts. A real blow can cause it to stay contracted, as if in shock. This is in order to shield the heart from further pain. However, the heart can then no longer move in its natural rhythm. It backfires. You’re not as well connected to your heart’s desires; the term “follow your heart” feels empty to you.
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    Mar 23 2012: Instalment 1
    Where to start, dear Andrew, now that you are asking us to help explore the miracle that you are? Preferably at the level of biology, if I read your post correctly? Let’s see what my posts do for you, even if they’re a bit haphazard because this is such an extensive subject to explore.
    A first practical piece of information is about the heart in the embryo. When you look at the developing embryo, the brain develops after/on top of the spinal cord. Picture that as top-heavy and upside down. The top of the developing brain then detaches itself from the cortex, migrates to what will become the rib cage, crawls in there and starts to beat. Presto: the heart. A piece of brain. Physically separate from the brain now, or so it seems (after all, it is ennerved, and that is the least of it), but they still work closely together.
    It is the heart-centre of the brain that decides which brain parts are to become active. Thinking with your heart means: responding to the present moment as-is with exactly the appropriate tools.
    However, most of us have a ‘stuck’ stress response system. A beautiful system by the way, designed for our survival and that of the species. It is built up from proven parts: the medulla (fish-worm brain), the pons (reptilian brain) and the mammalian brain all have their specific workings. The human (thinking, talking, reflecting) brain, doesn’t have to bother with the stress response. It is too slow for instant life saving responses; the thalamus will let the cortex know what the problem was only after the fact. Now this is a learning system. Yours began to learn what is safe and what isn’t when you were still a pancake shaped piece of tissue in the womb. For the first nine months of your existence, you got information from your mother (you were one, after all). And then after you’re born, your SRS will, in early childhood, be conditioned according to your experiences of what is danger and what requires which response.
  • Mar 23 2012: So glad to see this conversation happening! Yes, Heartmath is superb on this. In the west, it goes back thousands of years, but much of the conventional language about it came via the medieval alchemists, followed by the past 20 years of neo-Reichian and other body psychotherapies like Bioenergetics. In the East, it's been not only Ayurveda but Traditional Chinese Medicine with its focus on the energetics of meridians. Worldwide, indigenous cultures have many many names for these same phenomena. It's all coming together! You asked about the brain in the gut. A good mainstream place to start with that (though the Aurvedic and chi-based systems are especially interesting, gut-wise) is a Scientific American article: . As you look into this field, you'll find some "neuroscientists" who focus only on the skull-enclosed parts, and some who include the Whole interactive system of "neuro." And remember, it's all energy, continually expressing into electronic, chemical, and tissue-dense phenomena -- which is why energetic and attitudinal influences can have helpful or harmful effects.
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      Mar 23 2012: Thanks for your contribution, Cat. We hear again and again that these mind-body connections have been understood for thousands of years by some of the cultures you mention. It seems like many followers of these traditions assert that science is "catching up." I do not argue that many such connections are true and have yet to be proven by science, but I do think that some of these notions are of a more religious or personal nature, beyond the limits of scientific inquiry. Take, for example, the notion of the existence of supreme deities: My personal feeling is that that this notion is inherently beyond the scope of scientific observation, and is simply not reproducibly testable.

      What I find particularly interesting are the traditional associations between the mind and body that have associated scientific evidence that can help explain, or at least provide additional perspectives on, the existing notion. To me, this is not a matter of science "catching up"--rather, it's a matter of comparing two separate questions: What do we feel, and what do we observe scientifically?
      • W T

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        Mar 23 2012: It is interesting to note that in the Bible the heart is mentioned over 1,000 times, and also the kidneys several times to allude to the deep emotions that are hidden inside of us, that can only be examined by God.

        Hmmm...interesting topic of conversation. I wish I knew more.
    • Mar 23 2012: Very interesting! Thanks for sharing it.
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      Mar 23 2012: This really is quite interesting. I'm always excited to read about these types of research. A couple notes:

      1. If it is actually so simple as "contraction furrows = neurotic; crypt lines = warm-hearted/trustworthy," shouldn't we have evolved to make this simple distinction? Perhaps you can get a lot of information from looking into someones eyes, but personally, I thought the eye on the left looked more inviting than the one on the right. Maybe I just have a low intelligence for looking at eyes.

      2. A quote from the article: "They say the findings could one day be companies screening candidates for jobs."
      I actually find this quite scary! Have we come all this way towards ending discrimination between people of different sexes and skin color, only to discriminate based on genes and iris scan?
      • Mar 23 2012: I found it interesting that the article about the eyes as well as the one about the heart transplant both came from the same source UK Daily Mail.
      • Comment deleted

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          Mar 26 2012: If I recall, the article suggests that the eye scan could be used for hiring purposes. The jist of the article is that the iris may reveal certain personality features. Sounds like they're saying they should only take people with one type of iris in order to hopefully get certain personalities. Sounds like discrimination to me.
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      Mar 23 2012:

      If you read the article, the correlations are quite llow (less than .20) and given the high number of correlations they tested, I think they are spurious (i.e. due to random effects).

      A correlation under .20 means that the proportion explained variance is less than 4%

      Hence it (iris features) can tell (almost) nothing about personality.
      • Mar 23 2012: Applause for the caution - Let's be more literal - Eyes are window to the SOUL - I doubt there's any hard science on that!
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      Mar 24 2012: Hey Rafael,

      I think its interesting how all of these relationships between body parts and emotion seem to emerge. However, it seems like there are two distinct groups present: there are the scientifically driven cases, and then the experience driven cases.

      The article you posted reminded me immediately about an experience driven case, palm reading, for some reason. Palm reading has been around for a long time, and it is still around today. However, I couldn't find any kind of scientific studies that relate brain activity or personality to the patterns on our hands.

      To bring relevance to our bioelectricity class, this whole idea seems to parallel the inverse and forward problem. Given our knowledge of the brain, we can say, to some extent, that left handed people think more creatively while right handed people think more logically. Along the same lines, palm reading attempts to conclude things about us by presupposing that the hand lines are influenced by the brain and our behavior.

      Just as we study EKGs to learn more about the heart, we should be able to learn about us by studying our eyes, as your article showed.

      Although Christophe has shown that the particular experiment done does not reveal much, from a scientific stand-point, that's not to say that we can't use science to keep trying to figure it out.

      Suppose for some reason palm reading or eye reading were a field as large as heart studies - given that we pooled enough time and resources into research, do you think we would ever find a relationship between iris features and personality (in the same way that we are trying to learn about the heart from EKGs)? Or do we leave it as a more experience-based thing, e.g. this pattern means this, that pattern means that, etc.?
      • Mar 25 2012: Ah, the wood thrown in the fire of the discussion burns with good, bright light. I should have put in the standard disclaimer of not reflecting my own opinion. Just an interesting article (certainly not mine) directly relating to the discussion. Not scientific by any means. Might be scratching the surface of something very ancient though, stuff science doesn't know yet or that we've somehow "forgotten. " I've never believed in palm reading - never had my palm read. But this is a great topic of discussion. Thanks.
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        Mar 27 2012: your comment about palm reading makes me wonder: how much of what we might attribute to our bodies actually is something derived from something like human communication? I always suspected that people who are palm readers are just naturally good at judging character and reading people-- and that that is how they can stunningly tell you about yourself. In response to what you say about this being something like an inverse problem, i wonder (though doubt) if there is anything meaningful to study about the corresponding forward problem. By that I mean: have you ever had the physical sensation that you were upset or worried, but couldnt mentally put your finger on what it was? Meaning, can our physical emotions tell us something about our mental emotions?
  • Mar 22 2012: Good question! That's what makes me wonder too. There are so many "old-fashioned" sayings like (in the Netherlands anyway) having something on your liver, spilling your bile (gall), hard to swallow, and a few which are hard to translate properly without losing their meaning. It also reminds me to the theory of William James (psychologist/physiologist) about the role of the body in emotions. Looking forward to responses from the TED community!
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    Mar 22 2012: Thanks for providing a scientific insight into the mind/body connection. I have become convinced that is is a connection that flows freely in both directions. Perhaps it should be called mind/body/mind/body....

    I have long used different meditation and focusing techniques to calm myself before and during big performances and auditions. People accept the fact that calming the thoughts calms the body without any argument. I was talking to a massage therapist about this and asked if it worked the other way: If you relax the body through various kinds of massage, does the mind calm down as well. She said, "Yes." And she said it in a tone of voice that indicated that it was very nearly a stupid question.

    Still, it was an epiphany for me. Humans seem to know this intuitively on some level. We have all heard someone accused of "thinking with something besides his/her head". Ahem. There are numerous science fiction stories, including a memorable episode of Star Trek, where an alien entity from a superior race takes over a human body and is unable to think correctly when faced with human urges and desires. Once you accept that a an alien entity could possess a human body the rest makes total sense. I just had not connected the dots to realize that we think with our whole selves and not just with the brain.

    This article provided some insight into how this might work. Thanks so much! Perhaps mind over matter is not the issue. The issue is how the neural net of the entire human system interacts. Please feel encouraged to report any other discoveries you make in this area.
  • Mar 28 2012: Please do! No copy rights!

    Thanks for the info on smooth muscles and skeletal muscles. I will look into it. There may be a connection there yes. It's morning here. Off to work soon. Get back to you later.

    Best wishes
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    Mar 23 2012: Oh, and be prepaired to be amazed at the TCM view of Parkinson's Disease -

    You can download a free book under the publication tab.
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      Mar 24 2012: Thank you for sharing, Heather! Very nice to see such a concerted effort going on, with such interesting findings. We will, no doubt, see more links between illnesses -like Diabetes 2- and physical or emotional mishaps.
      • Mar 25 2012: just saw something on pbs about dementia now being called "type 3 diabetes"
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          Mar 27 2012: Rafael,

          Wow, type 3 diabetes is definitely interesting and different from types 1 and 2. Type 3 diabetes is described as:

          "A problem with insulin production in the brain is thought to result in the formation of protein "plaque"---not unlike that which is found among suffers of Type 1 (insulin-dependant) and Type 2 diabetes (insulin-resistant). But in the case of diabetes Type 3, plaque appears in the brain and leads to memory loss and problems forming memories."

          Check out the link that gives more information.

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    Mar 23 2012: Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM - five element system - has linked the bodies organs with emotions for thousands of years. Each element is paired with a yin and yang organ which are associated with emotions when the element is unbalanced - lacking or in excess relative to the bodies total energy flow.

    Earth - Spleen / stomach - worry, pensiveness

    Metal - Lung / large intestine - grief, sadness, anxiety

    Wood - Liver / gallbladder - anger, frustration

    Fire - Heart (pericardium) / small intestine (triple burner) - lack of vitality, depression, fright

    Water - Kidney / bladder - fear, isolation

    It sounds superstitious but don’t dismiss it out of hand. The tongue, hands and feet can be read like a map of the bodies health - useful diagnostic tool if you learn how to read their secrets.
  • Mar 23 2012: The first thing I thought of when reading the question of this discussion was Depression.

    Depression because it is known that there is a link between Depression and Cardiovascular Diseases.

    Therefore the question I ask myself is: could research focusing on neurocardiology bring a better understanding of the processes involved in Depression, and maybe even find explanations for the link between Cardiovascular Diseases and Depression?

    Who ever is interested in such a research, or who ever knows if it is researched already - I would love to be contacted.
    • Mar 24 2012: This is very interesting. According to the Glassman study cited in the article, those with clinical depression are at significantly greater risk for death from myocardial infarction than those in the control group:

      This is a situation in which I am quite tempted to say that correlation does not imply causality. The same factors which put an individual at risk for heart disease: a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, substance abuse, etc., generally increase an individual's chances of depression.

      While there is no shortage of explanations for the correlation in the data for these diseases, I don't think there is any doubt that they are, themselves, exacerbating factors in one another. The article claims that depression "has regularly been shown to lower adherence to prescribed medication and secondary prevention measures," according to another study by Glassman. It also stands to reason that poor physical health will have a negative impact on one's mental and emotional well-being. So it is easy to imagine that the result is a kind of positive feedback loop or vicious cycle promoting the progression of both diseases.
      • Mar 24 2012: Dear Simon, thank you very much for your reply,

        I think you make a good point by differentiating correlation and causality. When I wrote the question, I did not think about this in the first place but I was aware that depression influences your life style and life choices that as you write promote the progression of both diseases.

        The reason I still believed that there could be a causality involved is because Andrew Leader writes at the beginning of the discussion that:

        "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"

        and knowing that research found out that Depression seems to involve a pathway in the brain that is disturbed which involves "disturbances" in the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex (affected and lower count of glia cells) together with the hypothalamus. (Peter Kramer writes in his book "Against Depression" mentioning the studies of Yvette Sheline and Rajkowska)

        I thought that maybe there is a possibility that depression affects the signals send to the heart via a " down cascade" through the medulla to the heart maybe influencing chemical and hormonal balance and therefore explaining the correlation between the two diseases.
      • Mar 25 2012: "To die of a broken heart"
    • Mar 27 2012: Ten,

      While I do believe that research in the field of neurocardiology could lead to improved treatments of heart disease, I don’t think that neurocardiology will give us better ways to treat depression. Today, the accepted belief among psychiatrists is that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (most commonly serotonin or dopamine). In other words, the causes of depression lie in the brain and not in other areas of the body. I know that some people don’t believe that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. After all, it is impossible to measure serotonin or dopamine levels in a living brain.

      However, I would argue that the high success rate associated with serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (the most common type of prescribed anti-depressant) suggest that depression is, in fact, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’m willing to admit that illnesses like heart disease can exacerbate depression systems, but they’re not the leading causes of depressions. Even if a depressed patient is cured of heart disease, he or she will most likely continue to show symptoms of depression. The good news, though, is that depression is very much treatable; in most cases, all it takes is some therapy and anti-depressants.
  • Mar 23 2012: Taking another tact on the subject matter at hand...

    If we were to scour many different cultures for emotional associations to body parts, we would doubtless find a large number, providing each organ with a multitude of different, even contradictory descriptors. The number is likely to be large enough, and the things that we discover numerous enough, and the acceptable associations vague enough, that we will find more than enough evidence to reinforce our bias, if that is indeed what we are after.

    Still, it's handy to know which of the memes that we pass down from generation to generation are actually (coincidentally) grounded in reality, and which ones are not.
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    Mar 23 2012: This is instalment 3, please start with 1...
    One clear instance for me is when at age 11 my brother from another mother refused to play with me any longer. I got stuck in a mode of quickly assuming, in new situations, that I was only there on sufferance, with the concomitant stress. Again, the reason for this is very sound. Your thinking brain is too slow; therefore you respond through available scenarios (made a.o. by the Amygdala). It does mean you respond with old pain, distrust, distance, sometimes aggression, rather than with unencumbered Love.
    So, your SRS can get stuck when something happens that is too big to deal with: your body stores the experience and the emotions away for future reference, for such a time as you are able to deal with it. It’s the thalamic part of your brain that decides when. Good reason for that: the show must go on. You only collapse when you have a shoulder to cry on. The storing away costs energy. That is energy you do not have available for living your life today, for your immune system to function properly (health) and for thinking clearly.
    You can get into touch with these stored experiences and emotions and deal with them through body work (for instance: cranio sacral therapy). Though any experience or emotion can be located anywhere, there are striking similarities to where you can find them: burdens on the shoulder, sadness in the lungs (you never cried) and the large intestine (you never let go); note Chinese Traditional Medicine has these for the seat of sadness too; fear in the kidneys, anger in liver and gall bladder, pain of loss and separation in the heart…. Check the old proverbs and you will know. A knot in your stomach, a pain in the xx, we have a lot in our language!
    I saw a film yesterday in which one Bruce suffers from congestive heart failure. It is a case in point when it comes to emotions and (heart) health: "Beautiful Kate". Also read
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    Mar 23 2012: Being a bit concerned that the quality of this conversation, I feel obliged to introduce some skepticism in this discussion.
    Please don't take it personal, just verify for yourself and then think about it whatever you want yourself.

    I think Hearthmath deserves some debunikng...

    Other than that:
    As my previous post stated: there are many links between brain and the rest of our body (just look at the anatomy of the nervous system: it has sensors, receptors and actors almost everywhere)...
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      Mar 23 2012: THANK YOU Christophe. I was getting a little overwhelmed there! Keeping an open mind is one thing, but it's important to keep things grounded in science and fact. That said, science has its limitations, and it's interesting to see what people bring to the conversation. See my response to Cat Anderson.
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        Mar 23 2012: Might be off topic Andrew,

        But what exactly are the limits of science?
        (I'm interested in your opinion/thoughts about this)
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          Mar 23 2012: Great question. Glad you asked. I suppose this is important to discuss in order to best appreciate the responses I've been getting from some very diverse contingents.

          First, I think we're in the same camp in that I'm primarily interested in using this conversation to find more scientifically plausible connections between "mind and body," such as those I outline at the top of the conversation.

          Moving on to the question at hand, I think many scientists--as well as lay people who value science--tend to subscribe to some level of scientism, "a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints." (from wikipedia) (not to be confused with science itself). But there are many important questions that are simply not appropriately addressed by the scientific method. For example: Certain historical questions are best tested by gathering primary sources and making inferences. In the comment I just directed you toward, I mention that the existence of a supernatural deity is beyond scientific inquiry, as it can neither be proven nor disproven through reproducible testing of a hypothesis.

          It seems to me that the popularity of science as one of mankind's most important philosophical instruments has risen greatly over the past centuries, particularly with the industrial revolution and the technological age. However, I think scientism has come with it to a great degree. In my opinion, scientism has something of an uglier face, having been used time and time again to justify experiments that would today be considered unethical and to support debunked theories such as racial Darwinism.

          This said, I respect the less scientifically oriented posts on this conversation topic so long as they do not purport to be scientific results. Thank you for helping me keep a watch on this.

          What do you think?
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        Mar 23 2012: Interesting and nuanced stance.

        I do think scientism can be used wrong... though I often do fall into the trap of scientism.
        But that does not mean it is an argument that can refute science.

        Though, when it comes to exploring new ideas and hypothesis, it is useful (if not necessary) to be congruent with scientific knowledge.

        In short: I'm rather wrong by being too skeptical than being wrong by contradicting well established scientific findings.
  • Mar 23 2012: Not to be smartass, but have you ever heard of yoga? Our mind/body/energy has been connected for a long time. Of course it's all related!
  • Mar 22 2012: What this idea is making clear to me is how many of our "sayings" are so true when you take the time to dissect them literally... for example: "you are what you eat" and some much more profound and surprising such as "lose your dreams, lose your mind"...
  • Mar 22 2012: Caroline Myss has done a lot of work in the area of energy anatomy. You may want to look up her books and seminars.
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      Mar 23 2012:

      Energy used in spiritual terms is not the same as the one used in science.
      I prefer to use the scientific one...

      There is a lot of energy-conversion going on in a body: on cell level, we have the production and use of ATP, as well as the burning of sugars and fats (using oxygen).
      Then there is the electric current in our neurons (due to Na/K).
      Or the warmth developed by muscle contraction &c &c

      Any type of energy needs to be measurable and obey the laws of thermodynamics.
      I would be highly surprised if this were the case of all "spiritual energy".
      (Of course, I'm a skeptic, so I'm only swayed by good research)
  • Mar 22 2012: In addition to the heart math technology I also suggest you learn about Energy Medicine from Donna Eden at She also has numerous videos on youtube.
  • Mar 22 2012: I've read a book published by them, exactly what you're talking about.
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    Mar 22 2012: Well, our body and brain do interact quite a lot... in both directions.

    If we are in love, hormones cause our hart to go faster when we see the person we love... So there is some correlation there.
    Our guts have a independent neuronal system... though I would not attribute higher cognitive functions to it (as our fore-brain for example).

    So there are connections, and those might correlate with old connections people made in the past.
    It is not strange that while we are uncovering the precise workings of our brain and rest of our body, that we find raw parallels with older (be it scientific or unscientific) thoughts or findings.
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      Mar 22 2012: Hi Christophe! Thanks for the response. I like this example of the release of hormones based on seeing a person we love. Taking it a step further, what about looking into their eyes? Or for that matter, making eye contact in general? What about the feelings associated with the lips and mouth? For example, what in biology might be able to explain Freud's oral stage of development?

      We know through modern measurement techniques that when we see a face, our eyes naturally saccade to the eyes and lips. How did this behavior develop evolutionarily? What is the biological mechanism that perpetuates this behavior in us? Perhaps understanding the biology will help us understand the social phenomena of lovers gazing into each other's eyes, kissing, etc.
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        Mar 22 2012: Looking into each others eyes is known to raise affection (even with strangers, unless one is hostile)
        I think it was Oxycontin or dopamine (but I forgot, as I learned about that study 8 years ago).
        The emotional feeling and activity is, of course, in the brain.

        I don't think there is much left of Freud's actual theories (i.e. most of the have been replaced and/or deconstructed), but on a metaphorical level, there is still some use.

        As for the how and why, I would start looking at other animals, as emotion is located in our more primitive brain parts, which we share with other vertebrates (more specifically mammals).

        There is quite a lot of research on your questions (as well as documentaries that give you some basic info and findings). So you might find some answers there.
  • Mar 27 2012: Hello Veronica,

    thank you very much for your reply. I am very well aware that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. What I was suggesting was that maybe there is not just a correlation between depression and heart diseases but also a causal relation between the two.

    I was not thinking that the heart diseases would lead to depression but rather I thought, after reading the topic of this discussion - that since the brain and the heart seem to communicate also chemically that maybe this communication may be affected by the unbalanced state due to depression and that this maybe could be a causal link explaining another facet of the depression - heart disease correlation. And it would even be really interesting to disproof this idea :)


  • Mar 26 2012: Andrew: Since you're clearly focused on the science of these subtle matters, you might want to see how some in the world of experiments are trying to measure some of these phenomena. The Wiki for this at NIH is . It's been years since I paid close attention, so can't comment on recent events, but I remember the struggles they had, at start-up, designing good models to test some very complex hypotheses. Again, for example in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the variables to consider are in the hundreds, many of them very delicate and difficult to detect -- so sometimes an experimental model doesn't work well, but that still doesn't mean TCM doesn't work well. It can be just a measurement failure -- tho there were a lot of successes in showing efficacy for acupuncture and other subtle systems.
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    Mar 25 2012: I think our largest organ is a excellent example to link to feeling. That is to say our SKIN is often the first to react before we mentally process any conscious thought. I remember the hairs on the back of my arm standing up when I hear and amazing piece of music or my skin goes cold or clammy when I am in danger or under threat. I believe in today's society that some of this transcends biology to lead us to the nuances of human social interaction ( I get the danger elements still being relevant but the skin tingle from pleasurable pursuits is more cryptic). All this said I think it's also worth considering what part the skin plays in physical TOUCH. The countless emotional and physiological meaning loaded from centuries of social evolution may have something to contribute to a discussion on biology and feeling. After-all history and religion has many powerful positive and negative examples of where touch on skin has a dramatic effect on our emotions.
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      Mar 26 2012: Hi, Stuart,

      I agree with you that skin is definitely a pathway to conduct our feeling. Besides personal experience such as goosebumps. I came across two articles that support the idea of skin can reflect human emotion:
      In, past dermatologists have observed and believe there is correlations between skin disorder and human disorder. In, it uses skin conductance response (SCR) to measure emotional reactions.
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        Mar 27 2012: The first organ that I thought of to answer this question was also the skin, so I’m glad to see other people had already made a reference to it. I was in an interview last week and realized my palms started getting sweaty, indicating to me that I was getting nervous. Other than emotions which were previously mentioned about hair standing up or goosebumps, the skin also works with the circulatory system to show emotion. For example, when one gets embarrassed, he/she will blush and show a reddish tint. Fear on the other hand causes skin to go pale. What is interesting to note, however, is that these are all biological responses to something we are experiencing at the time, to which we have tagged an emotion to accompany them. For example, your face getting pale when you are afraid is a direct consequence of your body’s “fight or flight” response, where blood rushes to vital organs and away from non-essential ones like your face. We have thus connected this pale look to the sensation of fear.
  • Mar 25 2012:

    I would like to post this link one more time. There wasn't much response to it the first time.
    The story behind the heart and lung transplant here might be pointing to the possibility that the brain may be just one of many organs that serves as a storage for memories. This is becoming a common phenomenon with organ transplant patience. .... What could this be telling us??
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      Mar 26 2012: I was just about to post a comment regarding regarding the same issue, but then i stumbled across this comment! I also have read different accounts of people receiving certain body parts or organs and then feeling a strange connection to a complete stranger, only to find out that the person actually was the one who had donated the organs. If these stories wind up being true, I think that you cannot help but believe that there must be a connection between body and mind that we cannot yet explain. Maybe the nerves present in a body develop a certain relationship to the neurons present in the brain. This is where the feelings associated with a "gut feeling" come from, this relationship manifesting itself at points in the body as a result of an intuitive feeling because the brain has not yet processed information.
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      • Mar 27 2012: Ariel

        The human being's self imposed materialism has lead us to think that man is a machine, the brain is a computer, the heart is a pump. This way of thinking has got to stop. The heart as you say Ariel is more like a venting system that regulates the flow of the blood. Blood is the carrier of the spirit being in us.
        The blood is not simply pumped around in the body as many think. This has actually been know for hundreds of years... it's only our modern day science that has lead us to this delusion. If the heart was merely a pump, it would not be physically possible for it to pump blood into the minute capillaries that fill the body. The blood seems rather to be self perpetuating. All according to many circumstances both in our outer environment as well as our emotional state of being. A perfect example was given earlier on this discussion by Steven Nikolidakis about under the condition of fear the blood rushes inward from the face... and in the case of shame, the blood rushes outward towards the surface of the skin... amazing I say!! This is really the expression of the experience of the soul in the special fluid of the blood.
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          Mar 27 2012: Hi Daniel,

          Thanks again for the poem. I'm thinking of sharing it with my class tonight.

          What aspect of "modern day science" do you suggest accounts for "this delusion" of the heart pumping our blood through the capillaries? Also recall, science has also shown us the network of smooth muscle which assists the arteries and arterioles, while skeletal muscle movement predominantly accounts for circulation of blood through the veins. Could this what you mean when you say the blood moves on its own?
  • Mar 23 2012: Forgot to comment on history and drawing inferences from old reports. The "history" we have was written from limited points of view, becoming more limited by cultural selectivity over time, until certain interpretations become received wisdom. My favorite example of looking anew at old phenomena, considering previously unrecognized factors, was a study done by J.F. Padgett at the Santa Fe Institute, testing the hypothesis that inter-family marriages (for wealth and property) during the Medici era were among the most important factors in the cultural expansiveness of the time. Without looking at that, one might think Lorenzo was more uniquely special than he was -- and stick with the lone-great-man concept of history. Perfect metaphor for the subtleties of complex-system mind-body-spirit phenomena.
  • Mar 23 2012: Great discussion!

    Let's see:
    * Most of the brain is used to control processes in the body
    * These parts of the brain are largely interwoven and -linked with the parts involved in thinking and feeling

    It would be a wonder if there WASN'T any correspondence between these areas.
  • Mar 23 2012: Thanks for the randi link. The language reveals the essential problem of scientism: if we have not been smart or skilled or imaginative or dedicated or funded enough to develop instrumentation sophisticated enough to measure a phenomenon, we claim that the phenomenon does not exist and that all who say it does are delusional or intentionally dishonest. All the author says is that the Heartmath people "believe" in something that hasn't yet been proven to a "consensus" of scientists. It completely omits critical factors of the Hawthorn effect (of being observed) and the demonstrable effects of biofeedback that are important in the Heartmath approach (not to mention aspirin, used for decades before science could show how/that it worked). So be careful when you hear a scientist's magic words about insufficient evidence existing: remember, it's a commentary on the quality/quantity of evidence (the science), not on the phenomenon. PS: Not sure how I got on the "deity list." When I mentioned indigenous populations, I was referring to natural/energy/spirit healing, which -- you're right -- can't be measured by science in all its parameters, though the equipment is getting good enough to measure some of them (and convince some scientists that All such phenoms will eventually be measurable ... which is Ultimate Scientism).
  • Mar 23 2012: Apology to all if this has already been posted but this article was my first thought...
    • Mar 25 2012: Interesting experiment. It uses an EGG to monitor signals from the stomach to try and find a relation to one’s “gut feelings” to a concealed person’s emotions in a different room. Though, I do find it odd that a person may be able to have “gut feelings” without any sensory interactions like visual cues. How can a person have a feeling about something he is not even aware about? This still leaves the source of “gut feelings” as a mystery.
      Here is a somewhat related article about the relation between emotions and bacteria in the stomach:
  • Mar 22 2012: Mind's Eye:'s_eye
  • Mar 21 2012: there's another ted talk about the gut having lots of neurons too! can't remember which though = )