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Breathing Impacts Our Emotions, Attention and Cognition, Scientists Say

A new review of more than a dozen previous studies with rodent, monkey, and human brain imaging demonstrates that the act of breathing exerts a substantive, rhythmic influence on perception, emotion, and cognition, largely through the direct modulation of neural oscillations.

Allen et al. developed a new predictive coding model of respiratory brain coupling, in which breathing rhythmically modulates both local and global neural gain. Image credit: Gerd Altmann / Clker Vector Images / Sci.News.

Allen et al. developed a new predictive coding model of respiratory brain coupling, in which breathing rhythmically modulates both local and global neural gain. Image credit: Gerd Altmann / Clker Vector Images / Sci.News.

“What we found is that, across many different types of tasks and animals, brain rhythms are closely tied to the rhythm of our breath,” said Aarhus University Professor Micah Allen.

“We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out.”

“This also aligns with how some extreme sports use breathing, for example professional marksmen are trained to pull the trigger at the end of exhalation.”

“The study suggest that breathing is more than just something we do to stay alive.”

“It suggests that the brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival, to actually impact our emotions, our attention, and how we process the outside world.”

“Our model suggests there is a common mechanism in the brain which links the rhythm of breathing to these events.”

Understanding how breathing shapes our brain, and by extension, our mood, thoughts, and behaviors, is an important goal in order to better prevent and treat mental illness.

“Difficulty breathing is associated with a very large increase in the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression,” Professor Allen said.

“We know that respiration, respiratory illness, and psychiatric disorders are closely linked.”

“Our study raises the possibility that the next treatments for these disorders might be found in the development of new ways to realign the rhythms of the brain and body, rather than treating either in isolation.”

Stabilizing our mind through breathing is a well-known and used tactic in many traditions such as yoga and meditation.

The study sheds light on how the brain makes it possible. It suggests that there are three pathways in the brain that control this interaction between breathing and brain activity.

It also suggests that our pattern of breathing makes the brain more excitable, meaning neurons are more likely to fire during certain times of breathing

“We have a variety of ongoing projects that are both building on and testing various parts of the model we have proposed,” Professor Allen said.

The team’s work appears in the journal Psychological Review.

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M. Allen et al. 2022. Respiratory rhythms of the predictive mind. Psychological Review, in press; doi: 10.1037/rev0000391

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Source: Breathing Impacts Our Emotions, Attention and Cognition, Scientists Say

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