A recent study suggests that drivers are more likely to suffer a road accident if an obstacle appears at the same time than a heartbeat.
The probability of having a car accident often depends on our reaction time. Several factors can influence it. Drinking alcohol, answering the phone or writing a text message while driving, for example. But did you know that your heart rate could also play a role? This is indeed what emerges from a study conducted by Sarah Garfinkel and her team, from the University of Sussex (UK).
Longer reaction time during a heartbeat
To examine how the pace of our hearts could influence our reaction times, the researchers devised a virtual reality driving game. As the participants moved on the road, obstacles appeared from time to time. Either during a beat, or between two heartbeats.
It then emerged that when the obstacles arose at the same time as the heartbeats, the reaction times of the drivers were slower. They risked the accident more. If you drive, are very excited and your heart beats fast and fast, you will have more heart systoles [ventricular contractions], which will disrupt your reaction time and your ability to avoid objects, reads in the study.
Heart and brain intimately linked
Research has already highlighted the role of these systoles on our brain’s ability to process stimuli. There would be an inhibitory effect on pain, for example. If you sting your finger with a needle, this stimulus will actually be perceived as less painful if it coincides with a heartbeat.
Sarah Garfinkel also noted that these systoles could influence our memory capacity. If you are shown a series of words, either by being connected with your heartbeat or irregularly, you will be more likely to forget the words spoken at the same time as your heartbeat.
Thus, our receptors that trigger each time our heart contracts, in addition to contributing to the regulation of our blood pressure, also seem to affect some of our cognitive functions. So there seems to be better and worse cardiac phases for sensory processing, says Michael Gaebler of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Cerebral Sciences in Germany.