‘Lovers’ hearts beat in sync, UC Davis study says’

Here is a summary of the research behind this heart-warming headline:

When modern-day crooner Trey Songz sings, “Cause girl, my heart beats for you,” in his romantic ballad, “Flatline,” his lyrics could be telling a tale that’s as much physiological as it is emotional, according to a University of California, Davis, study that found lovers’ hearts indeed beat for each other, or at least at the same rate.

Emilio Ferrer, a UC Davis psychology professor who has conducted a series of studies on couples in romantic relationships, found that couples connected to monitors measuring heart rates and respiration get their heart rate in sync, and they breathe in and out at the same intervals.

To collect the data, the researchers conducted a series of exercises, sitting 32 heterosexual couples a few feet away from each other in a quiet, calm room. The couples did not speak or touch.

“We’ve seen a lot of research that one person in a relationship can experience what the other person is experiencing emotionally, but this study shows they also share experiences at a physiological level,” Ferrer said.

The couples, in one of the exercises, were asked to sit across from each other and mimic each other, but still not speak, and researchers collected very similar results.

The researchers also mixed up the data from the couples. When the two individuals were not from the same couple, their hearts did not show synchrony, nor did their breathing closely match.

Additionally, both partners showed similar patterns of heart rate and respiration, but women tended to adjust theirs to their partners more. This was true not only for physiological but for day-to-day emotional experiences as well.

“In other words, we found that women adjust in relationship to their partners,” said Jonathan Helm, a UC Davis psychology doctoral student and primary author of the study. “Her heart rate is linked to her partner’s. I think it means women have a strong link to their partners — perhaps more empathy.”

Lovers’ hearts beat in sync, UC Davis study says. UC Davis, News and Information. February 8, 2013. (The skeptical emphases are mine.)

For those who are interested, the research findings were published in the journal Emotion. It’s quite interesting to see them strip these couples of all romance and then proceed to examine its effects in them.

Careful readers of the above will realize that other headlines are possible.

We would call this sort of thing ‘limbic regulation’: the exchange of limbic information between mammals and the resultant mutual regulation of body states. Hence this advice: “Emotional stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them” (Lewis et. al., A General Theory of Love, p. 86). It is like wine glasses that resonate on the same frequency.

‘Finding people who regulate you well and staying near them’ is pretty much all there is to this living business. The trick, of course, is finding people who regulate you well and who want to stay near you. And that’s where it starts getting complicated.

The above research project doesn’t say so, but I do: the regulating mammal doesn’t have to be a human. Nor is this synchronicity of limbic signs confined to humans.

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