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How Your Rhythm Of Breathing Affects Your Memory And Fear

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RR RHYTHM OF BREATHING 2016 1

Memory and fear are two important aspects of human life and scientists are increasingly coming up with facts to show that the two components are affected by your rhythm of breathing.

According to a novel discovery by Northwestern Medicine researchers, your rhythm of breathing generates some electrical activity in the brain. This helps to boost your sense of emotion and memory.  The study suggests that inhaling and/or exhaling and breathing through the mouth and/or nose are vital determinants of the effects of breathing on memory and fear.

During the study, participants easily identified a fearful face they encountered while breathing in, compared to when they were breathing out. They also tended to remember more easily, objects they encountered while inhaling than when exhaling. There was no effect when breathing was done through the mouth.

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According to Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study published December 6 in the Journal of Neuroscience, “One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation.”

She noted that when we breathe in, we stimulate neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. All of these are across the limbic system.

These differences were first observed while Northwestern scientists studies seven epilepsy patients. Electrodes we implanted into their brains one week before surgery to discover the source of their seizures. This study showed that brain activity fluctuated with breathing; it gave researchers the clue that activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.

With such a discovery, scientists wanted to know whether cognitive functions typically associated with fear processing and memory could also be affected by breathing.

The take home message from this study, according to Zelano, is that raping breathing is advantageous when people are in a difficult situation. She notes that, “If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster. As a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”

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