Jill Suttie – Where to Find Wisdom in the Body

Many cultures consider the human heart to be the seat of wisdom. Now scientists are finding some evidence for this, though the reality may be more complicated than it seems.

Previous research has suggested that higher heart rate variability (HRV)—the variability in the time between our heartbeats, which is a measure of heart health—is associated with better cognitive and emotional functioning. For example, higher HRV has been linked to better workingmemory and attention, higher levels of empathy and social functioning, and better emotional self-control. Could heart rate variability be linked to better moral judgments, as well?

Researcher Igor Grossmann from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and his colleagues at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, looked at how HRV interacts with moral reasoning and judgment—or wisdom—in a series of experiments.

To measure wisdom, 186 participants were asked to select a social or political issue currently being debated in Australia that they felt particularly strongly about—such as climate change, unemployment, taxes, etc. Then they were asked to discuss their insights into the issue and how they thought it might play out over time using one of two possible viewpoints: 1) a “self-immersed” or subjective, more personal perspective, using first-person pronouns like “I” or “me” when possible; or 2) a “self-distanced” or more objective, third-person perspective, using pronouns like “he” or “she” when possible.

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