Correct breathing, namely taking a deep breath through the nose and out through the mouth, plays a crucial role in helping cope better with a stressful situation. A team of scientists at Northwestern Medicine has discovered in a new study that the rhythm of breathing improves emotional judgment and memory call.
For the study, around 100 young adults were asked to make snap judgments about facial expressions that appeared on a computer screen. They were able to identify a fearful face much faster if they encountered the face when breathing in compared to breathing out. The group was also more likely to remember an object if they encountered it on the inhaled breath than the exhaled one. The effect disappeared if breathing was through the mouth.
"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," said lead author Christina Zelano of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, according to Science Daily. "When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system."
Based on the study results, the researchers came up with the suggestion that breathing rhythm becomes faster in a state of panic. "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," Zelano further said.The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.