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Wisdom is a matter of both heart and mind

Friday, Apr 8, 2016,16:48 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Toronto | The fluctuations of your heartbeat may affect your wisdom, according to a new study which suggests that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. Researchers from University of Waterloo in Canada and Australian Catholic University identified conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgement.

Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability, said Igor Grossmann from University of Waterloo. We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning, said Grossman.

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgement to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. A growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgement to include the ability to recognise the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.

The new 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 judgement, researchers said. Human heart rate tends to fluctuate, even during steady-state conditions, such as while a person is sitting.

Heart rate variability refers to the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and is related to the nervous system’s control of organ functions, they said. 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 participants were instructed to reason about the issue from a first-person perspective, no relationship between heart rate and wiser judgement emerged. 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, said Grossman.

However, that does not necessarily mean these people are wiser – in fact, some people may use their cognitive skills to make unwise decisions. To channel their cognitive abilities for wiser judgement, people with greater heart rate variability first need to overcome their egocentric viewpoints, Grossman added.

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