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Why listening to your partner’s heartbeat has a calming effect

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Recently doppel was featured in the London Evening Standard. The journalist had been testing out doppel for over a week and in the write-up described doppel’s lub-dub vibration as being ‘a bit like laying on someone’s chest’.

We were really happy with the comparison, not only because it sounds really cute, but also because scientifically the effect is very similar - and the science behind doppel is really important to us.

In this post we wanted to dive a little deeper into the research behind the concept so that the next time you’re lucky enough to be snuggled up with someone you’re close to, you can understand why it can be so soothing.

Emotions are in the body as well as in the brain

Emotions don’t just exist in our brain. Many of our most visceral emotions such as fear and excitement are strongly rooted in our body.

Let’s take fear as an example. If you hear a surprising loud noise both your body and brain react through its ‘fight-or-flight’ system.

You might ‘feel’ your stomach clench in fear as the body moves blood away from the gut towards the muscles in your arms and legs to prepare you to either face the danger or run away.

But your brain also reacts to your body’s responses and helps you to understand the emotion - that is, it helps you to understand that you ‘feel’ scared. For example, your brain notices that your heartbeat has sped up, and it knows that a pounding heart often happens when you’re scared, and so it tells you that you’re scared. (This is one of the reasons why loud noises can make you feel on edge even if you know the noise isn’t scary - like when you’re watching fireworks.)

Your brain and body are in a constant feedback loop. The loud noise triggers your fight-or-flight response, but your brain keeps the cycle going. The physiological state of the body influences how we feel.

Different heartbeat rhythms are understood by the brain in different ways

The brain’s understanding of the heartbeat is key to why it feels so relaxing to lay next to someone and listen to their heartbeat.

In an incredible 2008 study published in CyberPsychology & Behavior, researchers played the sound of slow and fast heartbeats (60 bpm and 110 bpm) and asked participants to judge a series of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ images.

The team found that listening to the sound of a heartbeat significantly influenced emotional responses to affective visual stimuli, with positive pictures rated as ‘more positive’ when listening to the faster heartbeat.

This lines up what research into the effect of music on emotions has found.

The introduction to the scientific paper about doppel states:

“In music, tempo has been consistently shown to play an important role in mood induction and physiological changes. For example, listening to slower tempo results in lower arousal and subjective states of positive or calm emotional states. Conversely, fast rhythms are associated with high arousal and positive and/or arousing emotional states such as joy, excitement, surprise, fear or anger.”

What this all means for you

When someone is lying down, they are likely to be at their most relaxed, and so their heartbeat is naturally going to fall.  If you’re feeling stressed, lying next to them and listening to their heartbeat or even touching their pulse point can help you to feel calmer.

And interestingly, you don’t actually have to be lying down for this to work. If you have a friend whose heartbeat is slower than yours, just touching your fingertips to their pulse point can also have a calming effect.

Why not try and it out and let us know how it goes? Just remember to ask them first!


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