How Your Heart Talks Back: The Secret Signals to Your Brain

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Abstract random swirling light trails / Paul Cunningham - Corbis/GettyImages

Most of us are aware of how our brain communicates with our heart. For example, when we start jogging, our brain signals our heart to beat faster. Fear, stress, or even the sight of a long-lost love can also cause our brain to increase our heart rate.

However, what’s less understood is how our heart talks back to our brain. Recent studies suggest that these signals can affect our perceptions, decisions, and mental health.

Several reports broken down in ScienceNews discuss just how little we understand about the complex heart-brain relationship with Neuroscientist Peter Strick from the University of Pittsburgh, pointing out that research into complexities of brain-body interactions is “only matched by our ignorance of their organization.”

However, recent findings reveal intriguing insights into the heart and mind connection

The Heartbeat-Evoked Response (HER)

Each heartbeat sends a signal to the brain, prompting a neural reaction known as a heartbeat-evoked response (HER) that can affect our perception of the world.

A 2014 study of 17 people published in Nature Neuroscience showed that when the heartbeat created a strong HER in a patient, they were more likely to see faint grey lines around a red circle that others with a weaker HER could not. Suggesting the heart can affect eyesight.

Another study by Neuroscientist Sarah Garfinkel, published in Psychophysiology, found that words appearing on a screen during the heart’s contraction phase, or systole, were more likely to be forgotten later, meaning that heartbeat can affect memory.

The same study found that people who are better at sensing their heartbeats react more intensely to emotional images. It suggests training people to detect their heartbeats more often throughout the day can help reduce anxiety.


These studies highlight that our hearts communicate with our brains through interoception, the process by which our brain collects information from internal organs.

Cognitive neuroscientist Catherine Tallon-Baudry from École Normale Supérieure in Paris notes that these internal interactions are as crucial as our interactions with the external world.

"We have forgotten that interactions with the internal world are probably as important as interactions with the external world"

Catherine Tallon-Baudry

Understanding interoception and the heart brain connection better could lead to new treatments for disorders like anxiety. As scientists continue to explore these connections, we may discover innovative treatments for mental health disorders and gain new insights into human consciousness.

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