Breathing as a primal process that keeps us alive is a familiar thing. But, did you know that the way we breathe is the way we think and feel?
Decades ago scientists researched the connection between brain waves and breathing patterns and indeed they found it. This particular research was conducted on rodents but gave us a solid foundation for further examinations.
How you breathe affects memory and fear?
Researchers from Northwestern University led by neurologist Christina Zelano studied the link between brain activity and breathing patterns on humans. They analyzed EEG data from epilepsy patients. Electrode was implanted in their brains to study their neural activity during the seizures. However, data showed something else too. It turned out that the brain activity is deeply connected with the way the patient’s breath. This connection was seen in the following part of the brain:
- The piriform cortex – this part of our brain is related to the process of smell
- The hippocampus – major role of this part of the brain is processing the memories
- The amygdalae – this part is tied to emotional processing.
Also, they discovered that the brain wave oscillations in all three regions were highly synchronized when the patients breathed in, but less so while they were breathing out. The same diminishing of synchronization was noticed when the patient’s breathing through the mouth rather than the nose.
When the connection was found in the epilepsy patients, researchers conducted the experiment on the healthy ones. The first part of participants had to perform an emotion task – they have to choose as quickly as possible whether the image face expression shown fear or surprise. Results showed that participant, while they breathe in, easy identified fearful faces, unlike surprised ones. In reverse, while they breathe out, participants were much slower in their decision making.
The second part of participants has memory task. They have presented a series of images and 20 minutes later they have to choose, based on memory, which images they ‘ve already seen. Results showed that participants much better recall the images, while they breathe in.
The final conclusion is that the way we breath have a significant impact on our memories and emotional recognition. If we are breathing through the nose our cognitive activities are enhanced.