When the Heart Leads to Wise Reasoning
Would it surprise you to know that a recent study proposes that wisdom, or good judgment is not exclusively a function of your brain, but also of your heart?
More precisely, “wise reasoning,” the study’s authors say, is closely dependent upon what scientists refer to as heart rate variability as well as an ego-decentered mind. Both are key determinants of wiser, less-biased judgment.
Scientists at HeartMath Institute and elsewhere know that optimal levels of heart rate variability – the slight time differences that can occur between heartbeats – typically reflect healthy function of a body’s systems.
Now, according to a recently published study, high heart rate variability (HRV) in an individual may be associated with a greater ability to reason wisely. This is according to researchers who conducted the study, A Heart and A Mind: Self-distancing Facilitates the Association Between Heart Rate Variability, and Wise Reasoning.
Besides high HRV, another characteristic the researchers found with those who exhibit a capacity for wise reasoning is self-distancing oneself from an issue when making judgments or decisions.
A self-distanced perspective on an issue, for example, takes into account the opinions of others and additional external factors and tends to result in less personally biased judgments and reasoning.
Self-distancing contrasts with self-immersed, or egocentric perspectives, which, the researchers note, tend toward more personally biased judgments and reasoning because they typically do not incorporate others’ viewpoints and additional external factors.
Following are the key methods the researchers used in the study, which included 150 adult participants in New South Wales, Australia. They were instructed to engage in these two basic tasks:
Social reasoning task. Participants selected from various political and social issues relevant to Australians in the last few years and about which they felt strongly. Among these were funding cuts in education, climate change, hospital funding and unemployment.
Attributional judgment task. Participants were asked to form impressions of a stranger after receiving limited information about the person. They were told such things as the person likes having fun with friends, doesn’t like doing too much work, etc. They also were told about a neutral, positive and negative act the person had committed.
Throughout the study, participants’ resting HRV was measured along with their spontaneous impressions relative to their tasks.
To ensure they could identify who was self-immersed and who was self-distanced as they responded during the tasks, the researchers did the following:
“We randomly assigned participants to the self-immersed or self-distanced conditions to get (their) insight on factors that would be important to consider when imagining how this particular issue might unfold in the future.”
For example, those assigned to be self-immersed were instructed to ‘‘immerse themselves in the situation and approach their thoughts from the first-person perspective.”
They had to use the pronouns I and me as much as possible in their thinking related to an issue. Thus, there was a greater likelihood their personal opinions and experiences would affect their judgments.
In the study’s conclusion, the researchers acknowledge a longstanding viewpoint that a “tangible empirical inquiry” of wisdom may be too “ethereal,” meaning that it has been considered unquantifiable. Research over the last 25 years, however, has established several psychological components of wise judgment, they wrote.
Additionally, they state, “Neuroscientists (more recently) have proposed that to understand individual differences in wisdom, one also ought to consider aspects of human physiology.”
That is what led to the focus on HRV, the authors explained.
“Our research suggests that wisdom-related judgment is not exclusively a function of the body or the mind. Rather, greater heart rate variability and an ego-decentered mind are required for a wiser, less-biased judgment.
“Specifically, we propose that high-HRV people will be abler than low-HRV people to reflect on a social issue in a wise fashion when they are cued to self-distance. However, when they are not cued to self-distance, both low- and high-HRV people are expected to show the default egocentric biases.”
Over the last 25 years, HeartMath Institute has studied the human capacity to self-regulate thoughts, emotions and behavior and developed a variety of techniques and technology to facilitate this.
The new study is very much in harmony with HeartMath’s findings over many years of research in this area, says HMI Executive Vice President and Director of Research Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.
“It is consistent with other studies that show higher levels of HRV are associated with better mental functioning,” McCraty said. “Additionally, it shows that when we get outside our self-centered perspectives we make wiser decisions.”
He said the study also directly supports the Freeze-Frame Technique, the first self-regulation technique HeartMath founder Doc Childre developed. Freeze-Frame helps people make better choices and find out-of-the box solutions, he explained.
“The first steps of the technique,” McCraty said, “increase your HRV by shifting you into a more heart-coherent state and the later steps help you shift your perspective to a more objective viewpoint that is more inclusive and intuitive.”
Freeze-Frame and all of HeartMath’s numerous techniques were intentionally designed to be simple so people of all ages could use them essentially to “self-cue” themselves. Practicing these techniques enables people to modify their thoughts, emotions and behavior to achieve a host of benefits and positive outcomes.
Interestingly, in relation to this important new study, one of the core benefits of the HeartMath techniques is greater clarity in thinking.
Among benefits HeartMath techniques are designed to produce and that have been reported from practitioners from around the world are:
Read the complete HRV and Wise Reasoning study.
Learn more about HeartMath’s Heart Rate Variability research.