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In Times Of Stress, Two Hearts Really Do Beat As One

Illustration for article titled In Times Of Stress, Two Hearts Really Do Beat As One

Ever feel like you're vicariously living your loved ones' stressful experiences? There could be a biological explanation: during such times, your heart rate may actually synchronize with theirs.


According to National Geographic, researchers measured the heart rates of people walking across hot coals as part of a local tradition in a Spanish town. They also monitored the heartbeats of friends and family members of the walkers, and of people with no connection to them. The result: the heart rates of friends and family changed in patterns very similar to those of the walkers themselves, while the hearts of unrelated onlookers were unaffected. Researchers note that family members could have similar heartbeat patterns to begin with, but that doesn't explain why friends started to sync up. Study co-author Ivana Konvalinka says the research shows "we can find markers of emotional connectedness in bodily measures as well — it's not just a cognitive effect."

Psychologist Michael Richardson told National Geographic, "We like to think, as we move through our world, we're this isolated being" — but the fire-walking research shows we're actually interconnected on a pretty deep level. Of course, this isn't the first evidence of this — there's research showing women who live together may synchronize periods (though this research has been questioned). And a traumatic event like a loved one's death can cause heart-attack-like symptoms in the people left behind. National Geographic's Christine Dell'Amore points out that "the natural law of coupled oscillators holds that when two or more rhythms meet, they will become coordinated — a phenomenon seen across the natural world, from fireflies matching their flashes to groups falling into step." But humans are more than just oscillators — we're a deeply social species who derive our greatest joys and pains from interacting with one another. It's no wonder that, in times of stress, our very hearts can become linked.


Your Heart Can Synchronize With A Loved One's [National Geographic]

Image via Tatjana Rantasha/

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"...we can find markers of emotional connectedness in bodily measures as well — it's not just a cognitive effect."

This may be only tangentially related, but it made me think of a discussion I had with mr. resplendent during an episode of 'Jersey Shore' regarding Sammi and Ronnie and other 'drama couples' that we've known.

We arrived at a theory that the constant fighting, the emotional back and forth, the pattern of highs and lows was a way of "recharging" their relationship, that the adrenaline and rapid heartbeat and, really the weird "intimacy" of fighting (if that makes sense) sort of served as a bonding mechanism for the couple, and replicated the physiology of sexual bonding. In a way, it served the same function as couples who rode motorcycles together, or went sky-diving together, or had sex in unusual places.

The findings of this study, that peoples' heart rates increase to match loved ones while watching them do stressful things, reminded me of that conversation, and while it doesn't directly support it, kind of indicates that there's some relationship there.

/armchair psychiatry thesis over