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The Appreciative Heart: The Psychophysiology of Appreciation

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In this chapter, the authors discuss a model of emotion that includes the heart, together with the brain, nervous, and hormonal systems, as fundamental components of a dynamic, interactive network from which emotional experience emerges. Furthermore, the authors review research that has identified new physiological correlates associated with the experience of heartfelt positive emotions, with a specific focus on appreciation. The authors discuss the use of heart-based positive-emotion-focused techniques to help people self-induce and sustain states of appreciation and other positive emotions. Finally, the authors summarize the outcomes of several studies in which these techniques have been introduced in organizational, educational, and clinical settings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Heart rhythm patterns during different psychophysiological states. Heart rate tachograms, showing beat-to beat changes in heart rate, (left) and heart rate variability power spectra (right) typical of different emotional/psychophysiological states. Anger (top) is characterized by a lower frequency, disordered heart rhythm pattern and increasing mean heart rate. As can be seen in the power spectrum, the rhythm is primarily in the very low frequency band, which is associated with sympathetic nervous system activity. Relaxation (center) results in a higher frequency, lower-amplitude rhythm, indicating reduced autonomic outflow. In this case, increased power in the high frequency band of the power spectrum is observed, reflecting increased parasympathetic activity (the relaxation response). In contrast, sustained positive emotions such as appreciation (bottom) are associated with a highly ordered, smooth, sine wave-like heart rhythm pattern (coherence). As can be seen in the power spectrum, this physiological mode is associated with a large, narrow peak in the low frequency band centered around 0.1 Hz. This indicates system-wide resonance, increased synchronization between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, and entrainment between the heart rhythm pattern, respiration, and blood pressure rhythms. The coherent mode is also associated with increased parasympathetic activity, thus encompassing a key element of the relaxation response, yet it is physiologically distinct from relaxation because the system is oscillating at its resonant frequency and there is increased harmony and synchronization in nervous system and heart-brain dynamics. In addition, the coherent mode does not necessarily involve a lowering of heart rate per se, or a change in the amount of variability, but rather, a change in heart rhythm pattern. Also note the scale difference in the amplitude of the spectral peak during the coherent mode.
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The Appreciative Heart
Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.
HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath
Doc Childre
Quantum Intech
The Psychophysiology of
Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning
Copyright © 2002 Institute of HeartMath
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without
permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in the United States of America by:
Institute of HeartMath
14700 West Park Ave., Boulder Creek, California 95006
831-338-8500
info@heartmath.org
http://www.heartmath.org
HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Publication No. 02-026.
Boulder Creek, CA, 2002.
Cover design by Sandy Royall
1
The Appreciative Heart:
The Psychophysiology of Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning
Rollin McCraty and Doc Childre
“In daily life, sometimes people use the word appreciation and sometimes the word
gratitude without much thought about which is most appropriate. Use whichever word
that means the most to you, based on your culture, upbringing, or personal preference,
because it’s the heart feeling behind the word and intent that counts. If you’re coming
from your heart, whether you describe it as gratitude or appreciation, it represents the
same spark of spirit and care and has the same effectiveness. In the research lab, whether
you’re radiating appreciation or gratitude, it creates the same coherence and benefits to
yourself and your environment.”
—Doc Childre
Throughout history and across diverse cul-
tures, religions, and spiritual traditions, the heart
has been associated with spiritual influx, wisdom,
and emotional experience, particularly with re-
gard to other-centered, positive emotions such as
love, care, compassion, and appreciation. Current
research provides evidence that the hear t does
indeed play a role in the generation of emotional
experience, suggesting that these long-surviving
associations may be more than merely metaphori-
cal. In this paper, we discuss a model of emotion
that includes the heart, together with the brain,
nervous, and hormonal systems, as fundamental
components of a dynamic, interactive network from
which emotional experience emerges. Further, we
review research that has identified new physiological
correlates associated with the experience of heartfelt
pos itive em otion s, wit h a speci fic foc us on appre cia-
tion. We then describe several heart-based positive
emotion-focused techniques designed to help people
self-induce and sustain states of appreciation and
gratitude as well as other positive emotions. Finally,
HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Publication No.
02-026. Boulder Creek, CA, 2002.
An abbreviated version of this paper is published as chapter in
The Psychology of Gratitude, edited by Robert A. Emmons and
Michael E. McCullough. New York: Oxford University Press, in press
(Summer 2003 release).
Address for correspondence: Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., HeartMath
Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, 14700 West Park Avenue,
Boulder Creek, CA 95006. Phone: 831.338.8500, Fax: 831.338.1182,
Email: rollin@heartmath.org. Institute of HeartMath web site: www.
heartmath.org.
we summarize the outcomes of several studies in
which these techniques have been introduced in
organizational, educational, and clinical settings.
Denition of Terms
In recent years, increasing research has fo-
cused on exploring the psychology of positive emo-
tions. A large part of that attention has been devoted
to the emotion of gratitude.1 Appreciation, which
will be discussed in this paper, is related to gratitude,
and forms an important aspect of our emo tional
landscape.
McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, and Lar-
son describe gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder,
thankfulness and appreciation for life. It can be ex-
pressed to others, as well as to impersonal (nature)
or nonhuman sources (God, animals, the cosmos)”2
(p. 377). They conceptualize gratitude as an affect
which guides people’s cognitions and behaviors in
the moral domain,1
Common dictionary definitions of apprecia-
tion include “the act of estimating the qualities of
things according to their true worth”; “grateful
recognition”; “sensitive awareness or enjoyment [of
something/some-one]”; and “an increase in value.”
Cooperrider and Whitney define appreciation as:
“valuing—the act of recognizing the best in people
or the world around us. To perceive those things
that give life (health, vi tality, excellence) to living
systems”3 (p. 4). Paddison offers the following defini-
tion: “Appreciation’ means to be thankful and express
admiration, approval or gratitude”4 (p. 231). She
2
also expands on the idea of appreciation as increas-
ing in value and suggests that as one expresses more
appreciation, one literally grows in value to both
oneself and others. In the context of this paper, when
we refer to appreciation we denote an active feeling
of thankfulness, which has an energetic quality that
uplifts one’s energy and spirit.
Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning
You feel a deep sense of peace and inter-
nal balance —you are at harmony with
yourself, with others, and with your larger
environment. You experience increased
buoyancy and vitality. Your senses are
enlivened—every aspect of your perceptual
experience seems richer, more textured.
Surprisingly, you feel invigorated even
when you would usually have felt tired and
drained. Things that usually would have
irked you just don’t “get to you” as much.
Your body feels regenerated—your mind
clear. At least for a period of time, decisions
become obvious as priorities clarify and
inner conflict dissolves. Intuitive insight
suddenly provides convenient solutions to
problems that had previously consumed
weeks of restless thought. Your creativity
flows freely. You may experience a sense
of greater connectedness with others and
feelings of deep fulfillment.
Most people have at some point in their lives
experienced a state similar to that described above.
In many cases, individuals report that such “magi-
cal” moments, sometimes described as periods of
increased “flow,”5 are accompanied by the experi-
ence of a heartfelt positive emotion. Perhaps it was
the feeling of being in love, feelings of gratitude for
another’s kindness, appreciation for the majesty of
nature, or a sense of fulfillment spurred by one’s own
accomplishments.
For centuries, religious scholars, artists, scien-
tists, medical practitioners, and lay authors alike have
written about the transformative power of positive
emotions. However, until recently, scientific explora-
tion of these experiences has been largely lacking.
Presently, a growing body of research is beginning
to provide objective evidence that positive emotions
may indeed be key to optimal functioning, enhancing
nearly all spheres of human experience. Positive emo-
tions have been demonstrated to improve health and
increase longevity,6-9 increase cognitive flexibility and
creativity,10, 11 facilitate “broad-minded coping” and
innovative problem solving,12-14 and promote helpful-
ness, generosity, and effective cooperation.15
Over the past ten years, our research group
has focused on exploring how and why positive
emotions improve health and performance and,
specifically, on uncovering physiological correlates
of positive emotional states that may help explain
these observations. In recent years, our research has
concentrated on elucidating emotion-related changes
in the patterns of the heart’s rhythmic activity and
on understanding how heart-brain interactions affect
physiological, cognitive, and emotional processes.
The Heart’s Role in Emotion
Throughout the 1990s, the view that the brain
and body work in conjunction in order for percep-
tions, thoughts, and emotions to emerge has gained
momentum and is now widely accepted. The brain
is an analog processor that relates whole concepts to
one another and looks for similarities, differences, or
relationships between them. It is nothing like a digital
computer, in that it does not assemble thoughts and
feelings from bits of data. This new understanding of
how the brain functions has challenged several long-
standing assumptions about emotions. For example,
psychologists once maintained that emotions were
purely mental expressions generated by the brain
alone. We now know that this is not true—emotions
have as much to do with the body as they do with the
brain. Furthermore, of the bodily organs, the heart
plays a particularly important role in the emotional
system. Emotions are thus a product of the brain,
heart, and body acting in concert.
Recent work in the relatively new field of neu-
rocardiology has firmly established that the heart
is a sensory organ and a sophisticated information
encoding and processing center, with an extensive
intrinsic nervous system sufficiently sophisticated
to qualify as a “heart brain.” Its circuitry enables it
to learn, remember, and make functional decisions
independent of the cranial brain.16 Moreover, numer-
ous experiments have demonstrated that patterns of
cardiac afferent neurological input to the brain not
3
Figure 1. Emotions are reected in our heart rhythm
patterns.
Real-time heart rate variability (heart rhythm) pattern of an
individual making an intentional shift from a self-induced state
of frustration to a genuine feeling of appreciation by using
the Freeze-Frame positive emotion refocusing technique. It is
of note that when the recording is analyzed statistically, the
amount of heart rate variability is found to remain virtually
the same during the two different emotional states; however,
the pattern of the heart rhythm changes distinctly. Note the
immediate shift from an erratic, disordered heart rhythm
pattern associated with frustration to a smooth, harmonious,
sine wave-like (coherent) pattern as the individual uses the
positive emotion refocusing technique and self-generates a
heartfelt feeling of appreciation.
only affect autonomic regulatory centers, but also
influence higher brain centers involved in perception
and emotional processing.17-19
One tool that has proven valuable in examin-
ing heart-brain interactions is heart rate variability
analysis. Heart rate variability (HRV), derived from
the electrocardiogram (ECG), is a measure of the
naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart
rate. The analysis of HRV, or heart rhythms, provides
a powerful, noninvasive measure of neurocardiac
function that reflects heart-brain interactions and
autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are par-
ticularly sensitive to changes in emotional states.20, 21
Our research, together with that of others, suggests
that there is an important link between emotions and
changes in the patterns of both efferent (descending)
and afferent (ascending) autonomic activity.19, 20, 22-25
These changes in autonomic activity lead to dramatic
changes in the pattern of the heart’s rhythm, often
without any change in the amount of heart rate vari-
ability. Specifically, we have found that during the
experience of emotions such as anger, frustration, or
anxiety, heart rhythms become more erratic and dis-
ordered, indicating less synchronization in the recip-
rocal action that ensues between the parasympathetic
and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous
system (ANS).20, 22 In contrast, sustained positive emo-
tions, such as appreciation, love, or compassion, are
associated with highly ordered or coherent patterns in
the heart rhythms, reflecting greater synchronization
between the two branches of the ANS, and a shift in
autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic
activity (Figure 1).20, 22, 23, 26
In addition to understanding how complex ANS
activity patterns correlate with differing emotions,
we are beginning to understand the role played by af-
ferent neural signals, which flow from the heart and
body to the brain, in the generation and experience of
feelings and emotions. A substantial body of research
has explored the influence of afferent signals from the
heart and cardiovascular system on brain function.
This research dates back to 1929 when it was found
that stimulation of the vagus nerve inhibited motor
activity and prolonged sleep.27 Among the first mod-
ern psychophysiological researchers to systematically
examine the “conversations” between the heart and
brain were John and Beatrice Lacey.28 During twenty
years of research throughout the 1960s and 1970s,
they observed that afferent input from the heart
and cardiovascular system could significantly affect
perception and behavior. Their research produced a
body of behavioral and neurophysiological evidence
indicating that sensory-motor integration could be
modified by cardiovascular activity.29-33 One line of
their research established relationships between
the heart’s afferent signals and reaction times. For
example, they showed that decreasing heart rate in
the anticipatory period of reaction time experiments
quickens reaction times, while increasing heart rate
slows reaction times.33, 34 The Laceys introduced the
terms “cortical inhibition” and “cortical facilitation”
to describe these effects. Since that time, extensive
experimental data have been gathered documenting
the role played by afferent input from the heart in
modulating such varied processes as pain perception,35
hormone production,36 electrocortical activity, and
cognitive functions.17, 28, 37, 38
This research, however, did not generally
consider the role of emotion or how patterns of af-
ferent input affect emotional processes. Our research
findings have led us to support a systems-oriented
model of emotion that includes the heart, brain, and
the nervous and hormonal systems as fundamental
components of a dynamic, interactive network that
4
underlies the emergence of emotional experience.19
The model builds on the theory of emotion first pro-
posed by Pribram,39 in which the brain functions as a
complex pattern identification and matching system.
In this model, past experience builds within us a set
of familiar patterns, which are maintained in the
neural architecture. Inputs to the brain from both
the external and internal environments contribute to
the maintenance of these patterns. Within the body,
many processes provide constant rhythmic inputs
with which the brain becomes familiar. These include
the heart’s rhythmic activity; digestive, respiratory
and hormonal rhythms; and patterns of muscular
tension, particularly facial expressions. These inputs
are continuously monitored by the brain and help
organize perception, feelings, and behavior. Recur-
ring input patterns form a stable backdrop, or refer-
ence pattern, against which current experiences are
compared. According to this model, when an input
pattern is sufficiently different from the familiar ref-
erence pattern, this “mismatch” or departure from
the familiar underlies the generation of feelings and
emotions.
When the input to the brain does not match
the existing program, an adjustment must be made
in an attempt to achieve control and return to stabil-
ity. One way to reestablish control is by taking an
outward action. We are motivated to eat if we feel
hungry, run away or fight if threatened, do something
to draw attention to ourselves if feeling ignored, etc.
Alternatively, we can reestablish stability and gain
control by making an internal adjustment (without
any overt action). For example, a confrontation at
work may lead to feelings of anger, which can prompt
inappropriate behavior (e.g., outward actions such
as yelling, hitting, etc.). However, through internal
adjustments, we can self-manage our feelings in or-
der to inhibit these responses, reestablish stability,
and maintain our jobs. Ultimately, when we achieve
stability through our efforts, the results are feelings
of satisfaction and gratification. By contrast, when
there is a failure to achieve stability or control, feel-
ings such as anxiety, panic, annoyance, apprehension,
hopelessness, or depression result.
This model distinguishes two sets of emotions:
those that reflect current order in the neurophysi-
ological systems and those that reflect expectation
of future order. Emotions—the signals of perturba-
tion and its cessation, and of the initiation of pro-
cesses necessary to reestablish control—can thus
be divided into the “concurrent” and the “prospec-
tive.” The concurrent reflects the degree of match
or mismatch between the current inputs and the
reference pattern in the here-and-now.39 Mismatch
is reflected as arousal, while the achievement of
regaining a match or control is characterized by
gratification. The prospective affects can be divided
into optimistic or pessimistic. Inputs to the neural
system are appraised and compared to memories
of past outcomes associated with similar inputs or
situations. If the historical outcomes of similar situ-
ations are positive, an optimistic affect (e.g., inter-
est, confidence, or hope) will result. On the other
hand, if the memory of past outcomes has led to the
expectation of failure to achieve control, the cur-
rent inputs are accompanied by pessimistic feelings
regarding the future (e.g., annoyance, apprehension,
hopelessness, or depression). It is through practice
and experience with outcomes that inputs become
appraised as relevant or irrelevant, hopeful or hope-
less. As we encounter new situations, experience new
inputs, and learn how to gain or maintain control,
we expand our repertoire of successful outcomes.
The more repertoires available, the more likely a
new input will be assessed as optimistic with a high
probability of success in maintaining control. It is
the organization of sequences of input patterns and
behaviors into hierarchically arranged programs that
gives a person flexibility and adaptability.
Once a stable baseline pattern or program is
established, the neural systems attempt to maintain
a match between the set program, current inputs,
and future behaviors. If the baseline pattern becomes
maladapted, the system will still strive to maintain
a match to that pattern, even though it is not in
our best interest. There are many examples of mal-
adapted patterns. For example, if a child grows up in
chaotic surroundings, chaos will become familiar, and
therefore comfortable. The child will then automati-
cally take actions that create various forms of chaos
in his or her life in order to maintain a match with
the internal program and thus feel comfortable. An-
other example of maladaptation is when people adapt
to conveniences (e.g., something is usually done for
them, they always get what they want, etc.). These
conveniences can then become expectancies and be-
come taken for granted rather than truly appreciated.
Thus, when a situation occurs where individuals do
5
not get what they want or expect, a mismatch occurs
and they experience emotional dissonance.
Monitoring the alterations in the rates,
rhythms, and patterns of afferent traffic is a key
function of the cortical and emotional systems in the
brain. Thus, input originating from many different
bodily organs and systems is ultimately involved in
determining our emotional experience. However,
the heart, as a primary and consistent generator
of rhythmic information patterns in the human
body, and possessing a far more extensive affer-
ent communication system with the brain than do
other major organs, plays a particularly important
role in this process.19 With each beat, the heart not
only pumps blood, but also continually transmits
dynamic patterns of neurological, hormonal, pres-
sure, and electromagnetic information to the brain
and throughout the body. Therefore, cardiovascular
afferent signals are a major contributor in establish-
ing the dynamics of the baseline pattern or set point
against which the “now” is compared. At lower brain
levels, the heart’s input is compared to references
or “set points” that control blood pressure, affect
respiration rate, and gate the flow of activity in the
descending branches of the autonomic system.40
From there, these signals cascade up to a number
of subcortical or “limbic” areas that are involved in
the processing of emotion.37, 41
Several lines of research support the perspec-
tive that cardiac afferent input exerts an important
influence on central emotional processing. For
example, validation comes from studies that have
investigated the effects of afferent input on the
amygdaloid complex—the amygdala and associated
nuclei, which play a pivotal role in storing and pro-
cessing emotional memory and in attaching emo-
tional significance to sensory stimuli. Studies have
shown that neural activity in the central nucleus of
the amygdala is synchronized to the cardiac cycle
and is modulated by cardiovascular afferent input.18,
42 The importance of changes in the pattern of
cardiac afferent signals is further illustrated by the
finding that psychological aspects of panic disorder
are frequently created by unrecognized paroxysmal
supraventricular tachycardia (a sudden-onset cardiac
arrhythmia). One study found that DSM-IV criteria
for panic disorder were fulfilled in more than two-
thirds of patients with these sudden-onset arrhyth-
mias. In the majority of cases, once the arrhythmia
was discovered and treated, the symptoms of panic
disorder disappeared.43 These arrhythmias generate
a large and sudden change in the pattern of affer-
ent signals sent to the brain, which is detected as a
mismatch. This mismatch consequently results in
feelings of anxiety and panic.
It is interesting to note that when one plots
the heart rhythms generated by this type of ar-
rhythmia, they look quite similar to the incoherent
heart rhythm patterns produced by strong feelings
of anxiety in an otherwise healthy individual. By
contrast, coherent heart rhythm patterns, which
are associated with sincere positive emotions, are
familiar to most brains and evoke feelings of security
and well-being. If this is the case, then interventions
capable of shifting the pattern of the heart’s rhythmic
activity should modify one’s emotional state. In fact,
people commonly use just such an intervention—
simply altering their breathing rhythm by taking sev-
eral slow, deep breaths. Most people do not realize,
however, that the reason breathing techniques are
effective in helping to shift one’s emotional state is
because changing one’s breathing rhythm modulates
the heart’s rhythmic activity. The modulation of the
heart’s rhythm by respiratory activity is referred to
as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA).44 Later in this
paper, we describe other, heart-focused interventions
that also facilitate emotional shifts by generating
changes in the heart’s rhythmic patterns.
Physiological Correlates of Heartfelt Positive Emotions
Physiological coherence
Our research in emotional physiology has
identified distinct physiological correlates of heart-
felt positive emotional states. We have introduced
the term physiological coherence to describe a
functional mode encompassing a number of related
physiological phenomena that are frequently associ-
ated with feelings of appreciation.
The term coherence has several related defi-
nitions, all of which are applicable to the study of
emotional physiology. A common definition of the
term is “the quality of being logically integrated, con-
sistent, and intelligible,” as in a coherent argument.
In this context, thoughts and emotional states can be
considered “coherent” or “incoherent.” Importantly,
6
however, these associations are not merely meta-
phorical, as different emotions are in fact associated
with different degrees of coherence in the oscillatory
rhythms generated by the body’s various systems.
This leads us to the definitions of the term
“coherence” found in physics, where it is used to
describe the ordered or constructive distribution of
power within a wave. The more stable the frequency
and shape of the waveform, the higher the coherence.
An example of a coherent wave is the sine wave.
The term autocoherence is used to denote this kind
of coherence. In physiological systems, this type of
coherence describes the degree of order and stability
in the rhythmic activity generated by a single oscilla-
tory system. Methodology for computing coherence
has been published elsewhere.20
Coherence also describes two or more waves
that are either phase- or frequency-locked. A com-
mon example is the laser, in which multiple waves
phase-lock together, producing a coherent energy
wave. In physiology, coherence is used to describe a
functional mode in which two or more of the body’s
oscillatory systems, such as respiration and heart
rhythms, become entrained and oscillate at the
same frequency. The term cross-coherence is used
to specify this type of coherence.
Interestingly, all the above definitions apply to
the study of emotional physiology. We have found that
sincere positive emotions such as appreciation are
associated with a higher degree of coherence within
the heart’s rhythmic activity (autocoherence). Ad-
ditionally, during such states there also tends to be
increased coherence between different physiological
oscillatory systems (cross-coherence/entrainment).20,
22 Typically, entrainment is observed between heart
rhythms, respiratory rhythms, and blood pressure
oscillations; however, other biological oscillators,
including very low frequency brain rhythms, cran-
iosacral rhythms, electrical potentials measured
across the skin, and, most likely, rhythms in the
digestive system, can also become entrained.45
A related phenomenon that can also occur
during physiological coherence is resonance. In phys-
ics, resonance refers to a phenomenon whereby an
abnormally large vibration is produced in a system
in response to a stimulus whose frequency is the
same as, or nearly the same as, the natural vibra-
tory frequency of the system. The frequency of the
vibration produced in such a state is said to be the
resonant frequency of the system. When the human
system is operating in the coherent mode, increased
synchronization occurs between the sympathetic and
parasympathetic branches of the ANS, and entrain-
ment between the heart rhythms, respiration, and
blood pressure oscillations is also observed. This
occurs because these oscillatory subsystems are all
vibrating at the resonant frequency of the system
(~0.1 hertz). Thus, in the coherent mode, the power
spectrum of the heart rhythm displays an unusually
large peak around 0.1 hertz (see Figure 2).
Most models show that the resonant frequency
of the human cardiovascular system is determined by
the feedback loops between the heart and brain.46, 47 In
humans and in many animals, the resonant frequency
of the system is 0.1 hertz, which is equivalent to a
10-second rhythm. The system especially vibrates at
its resonant frequency when an individual is actively
feeling appreciation or some other positive emotion,22
although resonance can also emerge during states of
sleep and deep relaxation. In terms of physiological
functioning, resonance confers a number of benefits
to the system. For example, there is increased car-
diac output in conjunction with increased efficiency
in fluid exchange, filtration, and absorption between
the capillaries and tissues; increased ability of the
cardiovascular system to adapt to circulatory require-
ments; and increased temporal synchronization of
cells throughout the body.48, 49 This results in increased
system-wide energy efficiency and metabolic energy
savings. These findings provide a link between posi-
tive emotions and increased physiological efficiency,
which may partly explain the growing number of
correlations documented between positive emotions,
improved health, and increased longevity. In addition,
there are data suggesting that this more efficient func-
tional mode also improves the cognitive processing of
sensory information.45, 50
Appreciation, heart-brain synchronization, and
cognitive performance
In addition to the phenomena discussed above,
physiological coherence is also associated with
increased synchronization between the heartbeat
and alpha rhythms in the electroencephalogram
(EEG). In experiments measuring heartbeat-evoked
potentials, we found that the brain’s alpha wave
activity (8-12 hertz frequency range) is naturally
synchronized to the cardiac cycle. However, when
subjects used a positive emotion-focused technique
7
Figure 2. Heart rhythm patterns during different psychophysiological states.
Heart rate tachograms, showing beat-to beat changes in heart rate, (left) and heart rate variability power spectra (right) typical of different
emotional/psychophysiological states. Anger (top) is characterized by a lower frequency, disordered heart rhythm pattern and increasing mean
heart rate. As can be seen in the power spectrum, the rhythm is primarily in the very low frequency band, which is associated with sympathetic
nervous system activity. Relaxation (center) results in a higher frequency, lower-amplitude rhythm, indicating reduced autonomic outow. In this
case, increased power in the high frequency band of the power spectrum is observed, reecting increased parasympathetic activity (the relaxation
response). In contrast, sustained positive emotions such as appreciation (bottom) are associated with a highly ordered, smooth, sine wave-like
heart rhythm pattern (coherence). As can be seen in the power spectrum, this physiological mode is associated with a large, narrow peak in the
low frequency band centered around 0.1 Hz. This indicates system-wide resonance, increased synchronization between the sympathetic and
parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, and entrainment between the heart rhythm pattern, respiration, and blood pressure rhythms.
The coherent mode is also associated with increased parasympathetic activity, thus encompassing a key element of the relaxation response,
yet it is physiologically distinct from relaxation because the system is oscillating at its resonant frequency and there is increased harmony and
synchronization in nervous system and heart-brain dynamics. In addition, the coherent mode does not necessarily involve a lowering of heart
rate per se, or a change in the amount of variability, but rather, a change in heart rhythm pattern. Also note the scale difference in the amplitude
of the spectral peak during the coherent mode.
to self-induce a feeling of appreciation, their heart
rhythm coherence significantly increased, as did the
ratio of the alpha rhythm that was synchronized to
the heart.45, 50 In another study in which subjects
self-generated feelings of appreciation while listening
to music designed to foster positive emotions,51 we
found that the percentage of alpha-ECG synchroni-
zation significantly increased in the left hemisphere
centered around the temporal lobe. Figure 3 shows
the group mean topographical maps of the percent-
age of alpha activity that was synchronized to the
heartbeat across different conditions. These plots
are controlled for total amount of alpha activity and
indicate only changes in synchronized activity from
a resting baseline to actively feeling appreciation. As
can be seen in the figure, the main brain areas that
are synchronized to the heart shift from the right
frontal area during the baseline period (the lighter the
color, the more synchronized) to the left hemisphere
centered around the temporal area and radiating
outward from there during appreciation.
These observations may be related to findings
indicating that increased left hemisphere activity is
associated with happiness and euphoria while in-
8
Figure 3. Alpha activity synchronized to the cardiac cycle.
Group mean topographical maps for 30 subjects, showing the percentage of alpha activity in different regions of the brain that is synchronized
to the heartbeat during a resting baseline as compared to during actively feeling appreciation. The plots are controlled for total amount of
alpha activity (which did not change signicantly) and show only the amount of synchronized activity. As can be seen in the plots, the areas
with the highest degree of synchronization shift from the right frontal area during the baseline period (lighter colors indicate higher levels of
synchronization) to the left hemisphere centered around the temporal area and radiating outward from there during appreciation. This change
was most pronounced at EEG site T3, although activity at adjacent sites was also signicantly more synchronized to the heart.
creased right hemisphere activity is associated with
depression and negative affect.52, 53 It is clear that
both the right and left hemispheres are involved in
the processing and regulation of emotion; however,
there is still a lack of clarity regarding the roles of
hemispheres and how they interact in the emergence
and perception of emotional experience.
In related experiments, we found that increased
heart rhythm coherence correlates with significant
improvements in cognitive performance in auditory
discrimination tasks, which require subjects to focus
and pay attention, discriminate subtle tone differ-
ences, and react quickly and accurately. Not only
did increases in heart rhythm coherence accompany
increased cognitive performance, but also the de-
gree of coherence correlated with task performance
across all subjects during all tasks. The control group,
which had a relaxation period in place of the positive
emotion self-induction task, showed no significant
increase in heart rhythm coherence or improvements
in cognitive performance.45, 50
These observations directly support the
concept that the pattern of cardiac afferent input
reaching the brain can inhibit or facilitate cortical
function significantly beyond the micro-rhythm of
inhibition/facilitation associated with simple changes
in heart rate that was first documented by the Laceys.
Thus, these findings provide a potential physiologi-
cal link between appreciation and improvements in
faculties such as motor skills, focused attention, and
discrimination.
In summary, we use the term coherence to
describe a physiological mode that encompasses en-
trainment, resonance, and synchronization—distinct
but related phenomena, all of which emerge from the
harmonious interactions of the body’s subsystems.
Correlates of physiological coherence include: in-
creased synchronization between the two branches
of the ANS, a shift in autonomic balance toward
increased parasympathetic activity, increased heart-
brain synchronization, increased vascular resonance,
and entrainment between diverse physiological oscil-
latory systems. The coherent mode is reflected by a
smooth, sine wave-like pattern in the heart rhythms
(heart rhythm coherence) and a narrow-band, high-
amplitude peak in the low frequency range of the HRV
power spectrum, at a frequency of about 0.1 hertz.
9
Drivers of physiological coherence
Although physiological coherence is a natu-
ral state that can occur spontaneously, sustained
episodes are generally rare. While specific rhyth-
mic breathing methods can induce coherence and
entrainment for brief periods, cognitively-directed,
paced breathing is difficult for many people to
maintain. On the other hand, our findings indicate
that individuals can produce extended periods of
physiological coherence by actively generating and
sustaining a feeling of appreciation. Sincere feelings
of appreciation appear to excite the system at its
resonant frequency, allowing the coherent mode to
emerge naturally. This typically makes it easier for
people to sustain a positive emotion for much longer
periods, thus facilitating the process of establish-
ing and reinforcing coherent patterns in the neural
architecture as the familiar reference. Once a new
pattern is established, the brain strives to maintain
a match with the new program, thus increasing the
probability of having an optimistic outlook and main-
taining emotional stability, even during challenging
situations.
Consciously generating feelings of love and
appreciation while pretending to breathe through
the area of the heart appears to confer a far wider
range of benefits than simply “forcing” the system
into coherence using breathing techniques alone. In
order to distinguish between physiological coherence
that naturally emerges as a result of positive emotions
exciting the system at its resonant frequency, and
coherence that is induced by cognitively-driven ap-
proaches (e.g., paced breathing), we have introduced
the term psychophysiological coherence to denote
emotionally-driven coherence.45
During states of psychophysiological coher-
ence, bodily systems function with a high degree of
synchronization, efficiency, and harmony, and the
body’s natural regenerative processes appear to be
facilitated. Psychologically, this mode is associated
with improved cognitive performance, increased
emotional stability, and enhanced psychosocial
functioning and quality of life. Additionally, many
people report experiencing a notable reduction in
inner mental dialogue along with feelings of increased
peace, self-security, and sustained positive emotions
after practicing maintaining this mode even for short
periods such as a few days or weeks.20, 23, 26, 45
Emotional Management: The Missing Dimension
Throughout the ages, in every culture, and
in countless different ways, we have been exhorted
repeatedly with the same fundamental message: to
love one another, to have care and compassion for
our fellow human beings, and to live in apprecia-
tion of life’s gifts. Yet, in our view, genuine positive
emotions and attitudes are not as prevalent in most
people’s lives as one might presume. Such states,
along with their numerous benefits, remain, for the
most part, mental concepts, which are transient
and unpredictable experiences in the majority of
people’s lives. They are too often dependent on the
arrangements of external events, rather than being
fundamental traits. For example, people may find it
relatively easy to genuinely experience feelings such
as happiness, buoyancy, or appreciation during life’s
“highs”—special occasions or events that frequently
involve a high degree of sensory stimulation; how-
ever, people rarely sustain such regenerative feelings
as a norm in the midst of their ordinary day-to-day
lives. At the other end of the spectrum, there are
many examples in which a tragedy or crisis elicits
feelings and actions of care, compassion, and un-
precedented cooperation among members of a family
community, or organization—only for people to fall
back into old patterns of separation, judgment, and
self-centered thought and action some time after the
event has passed.
Although most people intuitively know that
they feel best and operate more efficiently and ef-
fectively when experiencing positive emotions, why
is it that they do not more consistently engage such
states in their day-to-day lives? Why do genuine
positive emotional experiences remain transient
and unpredictable occurrences for most people? We
propose that a main factor underlying this discrep-
ancy is a fundamental lack of mental and emotional
self-management skills. In other words, people gener-
ally do not make efforts to actively infuse their daily
experiences with greater emotional quality because
they sincerely do not know how.
Despite our best intentions, the human “nega-
tivity bias”—the natural tendency to focus on inputs
(including thoughts and emotions) perceived as
negative to a greater extent than neutral or positive
stimuli—is a very real phenomenon with a sound
10
neurophysiological basis.54 Although most people
definitively claim that they love, care, and appreciate,
it might shock many to realize the large degree to
which these feelings are merely assumed or acknowl-
edged cognitively, far more than they are actually
experienced in their feeling world. In the absence of
conscious efforts to engage, build, and sustain posi-
tive perceptions and emotions, we all too automati-
cally fall prey to feelings of irritation, anxiety, worry,
frustration, judgmentalness, self-doubt, and blame.
As negative feelings are repeatedly “rehashed,” these
patterns reinforce their familiarity in the neural ar-
chitecture, thus becoming stereotyped and increas-
ingly automatic and mechanical. Many people do not
realize the extent to which these habitual response
patterns dominate their internal landscape, dilut-
ing and limiting positive emotional experience, and
eventually becoming so familiar that they become
engrained in their sense of self-identity.
Unmanaged negative mental, and, particularly,
emotional processing drains vital energy from our
psychological energy reserves, which we call the
“emotional energy accumulators.” Emotional energy
or buoyancy is important for smooth mental process-
es. When our energy accumulators are drained, this
leads to unregulated nervous system activity, which
decreases clarity and our ability to make accurate
assessments and quick, effective decisions. This, in
turn, often serves to perpetuate the cycle of stress
and disturbed feelings. In essence, the “inner noise”
generated from unmanaged mental and emotional
processes consumes our energy and keeps us from
functioning to our full potential.
Various stress management practices have
been developed to help people manage their emo-
tions in order to reduce these energy drains. The
majority of these approaches are based on a cogni-
tive model in which all emotions follow a cognitive
assessment of sensory input, which then leads to a
behavioral response. Therefore, these approaches
rely on strategies that engage or restructure cognitive
processes. The basic theoretical framework is that
if emotions always follow thought, then by chang-
ing one’s thoughts, one can gain control over the
emotions. However, in the last decade, research in
the neurosciences has made it quite clear that emo-
tional processes operate at a much higher speed than
thoughts, and frequently bypass the mind’s linear
reasoning process entirely.55 In other words, not all
emotions follow thoughts; many (and in fact most in
certain contexts) occur independently of the cogni-
tive systems and can significantly bias or color the
cognitive process and its output or decision.55, 56
This is why strategies that encourage “positive
thinking” without also engaging positive feelings
may frequently provide only temporary, if any, relief
from emotional distress. While a conceptual shift may
occur (which is important), the fundamental source
of the emotional stress (a maladapted reference
program) remains largely intact. This has significant
implications for emotion regulation interventions
and suggests that intervening at the level of the emo-
tional system may in many cases be a more direct
and efficient way to override and transform historical
patterns underlying maladaptive thoughts, feelings,
and behaviors and instill more positive emotions and
prosocial behaviors.
Tools and Techniques to Promote Positive Emotions
and Physiological Coherence
The recent Positive Psychology movement
has emphasized the importance of encouraging not
only the reduction of negative emotions, but also the
cultivation of positive emotions in daily life.57 Yet, psy-
chology has seen a notable scarcity of interventions
that focus directly and systematically on increasing
positive emotional experiences. Recognizing this
need many years ago, one of us (D.C.) undertook
the development of practical, heart-based positive
emotion-focused tools and techniques, which are
designed to facilitate the self-regulation of emotions.4,
58-63 Collectively known as the HeartMath system,
these techniques utilize the heart as a point of entry
into the psychophysiological networks that underlie
emotional experience.58, 63 The model of emotion we
briefly summarized earlier emphasizes the central
role played by cardiac afferent signals in emotional
perception and experience. In essence, because the
heart is a primary generator of rhythmic patterns in
the body—influencing brain processes that control
the ANS, cognitive function, and emotion—it provides
an access point from which system-wide dynamics
can be quickly and profoundly affected.45
In brief, HeartMath techniques combine a
shift in the focus of attention to the area around the
heart (where many people subjectively feel positive
emotions) with the intentional self-induction of a
11
sincere positive emotional state, such as apprecia-
tion. We have found that appreciation is one of the
most concrete and easiest of the positive emotions
for individuals to self-induce and sustain for longer
periods.
Such a shift in focus and feeling serves to in-
crease heart rhythm coherence, which results in a
change in the pattern of afferent cardiac input sent
to the cognitive and emotional centers in the brain.
This coupling of a more organized afferent pattern
with an intentionally self-generated feeling of appre-
ciation reinforces the natural conditioned response
between the physiological state and the positive
emotion. This subsequently strengthens the ability
of a positive feeling shift to initiate a physiological
shift towards increased coherence, or a physiological
shift to facilitate the experience of a positive emotion.
Once this association is firmly conditioned, simply
pretending to breathe through the area of the heart,
during a challenging situation where it may be hard
to self-induce a positive emotion, can often facilitate
an emotional shift.
Positive emotion-focused techniques can thus
enable individuals to effectively replace stressful
thought patterns and feelings with more positive per-
ceptions and emotions in the moment when they are
needed most. In turn, this frequently leads to more
effective communication, improved decision making,
and greater creativity and resourcefulness in problem
solving. However, there are also benefits that extend
beyond reducing stress and negative emotions in the
present moment. Learning to self-generate positive
emotions with increasing consistency can give rise
to long-term improvements in emotion regulation
abilities, attitudes, and relationships that affect many
aspects of one’s life.
In keeping with our model of emotion, we
suggest that these enduring benefits stem from the
fact that as people experience appreciation and its
consequent physiological coherence with increasing
consistency, the coherent patterns become ever more
familiar to the brain. Thus, these patterns become
established in the neural architecture as a new,
stable baseline or norm, which serves as a set point
or frame of reference that the system then strives
to maintain. Therefore, when stress or emotional
instability is subsequently experienced, the familiar
coherent, stable state is more readily accessible, en-
abling a quicker and more enduring emotional shift.
Even brief periods of coherence can stabilize nervous
system dynamics, thereby reducing the tendency for
inputs, whether internally or externally generated,
to cause an emotional disturbance. Through this re-
patterning process, positive emotions and coherent
physiological patterns progressively replace maladap-
tive emotional patterns and stressful responses as the
habitual way of being.
HeartMath tools and techniques can be divided
into two basic categories: (1) positive emotion refo-
cusing techniques and (2) emotional restructuring
techniques. Below we describe one example from
each category: the Freeze-Frame and Heart Lock-In
techniques. These tools are intentionally designed as
simple, easy-to-use interventions that can be adapted
to virtually any culture or age group. They are free
of religious or cultural bias, and most people feel an
enjoyable emotional shift and experience a broadened
perception the first time that they use them. Although
most age groups can effectively use the Freeze-Frame
and Heart Lock-In techniques, tools specifically
for children and young adults have also been de-
signed.62, 64, 65 We have also created a number of tools
for use in specific contexts in organizational, educa-
tional, and health care settings.58, 61, 66
Freeze-Frame: A positive emotion refocusing technique
Freeze-Frame is a positive emotion refocus-
ing exercise that enables individuals to intervene
in real time to greatly reduce or prevent the stress
and energy drains created from inappropriate or
unproductive emotional triggers and reactions.60 The
technique’s name is derived from the concept that
conscious perception works in a way that is analogous
to watching a movie, and perceiving each moment
as an individual perceptual frame. When a scene
becomes stressful, it is possible and helpful to freeze
that perceptual frame and isolate it in time so that it
can be observed from a more detached and objective
viewpoint—similar to putting a VCR on pause for the
moment. We have found that the process of deen-
ergizing and disengaging from distressing thoughts
and emotions can be greatly facilitated by shifting
one’s attention to the area around the heart (center
of the chest) and self-generating a feeling of sincere
appreciation. This process prevents or interrupts the
12
body’s normal stress response and facilitates a shift
toward increased physiological coherence (see Figure
1). The resulting change in the pattern of afferent
signals reaching the brain’s cognitive and emotional
centers reinforces the feeling shift and also facilitates
higher cognitive faculties that are normally compro-
mised during stress and negative emotional states.
This sharpens one’s discernment abilities, increases
resourcefulness, and often facilitates a perceptual
shift, which allows problematic issues, interactions,
or decisions to be assessed and dealt with from a
broader, more emotionally balanced perspective.
The Freeze-Frame technique consists of five
simple steps, which can be effectively applied in real
time in the midst of a stressful situation or day-to-day
activities (e.g., while driving, sitting in a meeting,
interacting with others, etc.). (See box below.)
The key elements of the technique are: Shift
(to the area of the heart), Activate (a positive feel-
ing), and Sense (what is the best perspective or atti-
tude for this situation). In most training contexts, we
first lead people through several exercises designed to
aid them in identifying their deepest core values and
the people, places, or events they truly appreciate.
This helps them with Step 3, where they are asked
to self-generate a feeling of appreciation or other
positive emotion. This shift to a positive emotional
state, or at least to a more neutral feeling, is an im-
portant aspect of the technique’s effectiveness. For
those people for whom it may be initially difficult to
self-generate a feeling of appreciation in the present
moment, it is generally helpful to suggest that they
remember a time or experience in the past when they
felt sincere appreciation and then attempt to reex-
perience that feeling in the present. With practice,
however, most people become able to self-generate
feelings of appreciation in real time and no longer
need the past time reference.
As previously stated, the Freeze-Frame tech-
nique is designed to enable individuals to intercede
in real time while stress is being experienced—rather
than try to recuperate after the fact. The benefits of
this cannot be overstated. Using Freeze-Frame in the
“heat of the moment” saves tremendous amounts
of energy that otherwise would have been drained
and often prevents hours of emotionally-induced
wear and tear on the body and psyche. It can also
reduce the time and energy spent dealing with the
The Steps of Freeze-Frame:
1. Take a time-out so that you can temporarily disengage from your thoughts and
feelings—especially stressful ones.
2. Shift your focus of attention to the area around your heart—now feel your
breath coming in through your heart and out through your solar plexus.
(Practice breathing this way a few times to ease into the technique).
3. Make a sincere effort to activate a positive feeling.
(This can be a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone, some place or something
in your life.)
4. Ask yourself what would be an efficient, effective attitude or action that would
balance and de-stress your system.
5. Quietly sense any change in perception or feeling and sustain it as long
as you can.
(Heart perceptions are often subtle. They gently suggest effective solutions that would be best
for you and all concerned.)
13
consequences of impulsive decisions or emotionally
charged reactions, such as regret, embarrassment,
guilt, accidents, and damaged relationships.
One of the long-term benefits to be gained
from the practice of emotion refocusing techniques
is increased emotional awareness, a fundamental step
in the process of improving emotional well-being. In
addition to helping people modify their responses to
stressful events in the external environment, such
techniques also help individuals identify and modify
more subtle “internal” stressors (i.e., persistent self-
defeating and energy-depleting thought patterns and
feelings, such as anxiety, fear, hurt, resentment, judg-
mentalism, perfectionism, and projections about the
future). As individuals practice “freezing the frame”
when feeling inner turmoil, they gain increased
awareness of the habitual mental and emotional pro-
cesses that underlie their stress, and become more
able to catch the onset of these feelings and patterns,
thus diminishing their influence.
Most individuals find the Freeze-Frame tech-
nique applicable to a variety of purposes beyond
stress reduction. Additional applications include:
facilitating decision making and problem solving,
increasing mental focus and clarity, enhancing cre-
ativity, improving work and sports performance, im-
proving communication effectiveness, and increasing
team coherence. Since the technique takes only a
minute or less to employ, many people report using
it frequently throughout the day to clear their “men-
tal screen” and consciously add a higher quality of
emotional experience to their daily activities.
Heart Lock-In: An emotional restructuring technique
The Heart Lock-In58, 59 is an emotional re-
structuring technique, which is generally taught as a
companion tool to Freeze-Frame. The Heart Lock-In
technique focuses on building the capacity to sustain
heartfelt positive emotions and physiological coher-
ence for longer periods. If desired, practice of this
technique may also be facilitated by music specifically
created to promote emotional balance and augment
the favorable psychological and physiological effects
of positive affective states.67, 68
In essence, the Heart Lock-In technique is
designed to reinforce or “lock in” the coherent
psychophysiological patterns associated with ap-
preciation and other positive affective states. With
practice, these coherent patterns become increas-
ingly familiar, thus promoting increased physiological
efficiency, mental acuity, and emotional stability as
the new, familiar baseline or norm. Once this is ac-
complished, the system then attempts to maintain
this state automatically.
At the physiological level, the occurrence of
this “repatterning” process is supported by elec-
trophysiological evidence demonstrating a greater
frequency of spontaneous (without conscious prac-
tice of the intervention) periods of coherence in the
heart rate tachograms of individuals practiced in
the Heart Lock-In technique in comparison to the
general population (unpublished data). To the extent
that the Heart Lock-In helps establish appreciation
and coherence as a familiar and accessible state, it
becomes easier to effectively apply the Freeze-Frame
tool during stressful or challenging situations.
The key elements of the technique are: Focus
(in the area of the heart), Appreciate, and Radiate
(love and care). In the midst of life’s perpetual activ-
ity, the Heart Lock-In offers a simple way to culti-
vate and amplify heartfelt positive feelings and their
nourishing effects on the body and psyche. As with
the Freeze-Frame technique, it is important in the
Heart Lock-In to try and genuinely experience the
feeling of appreciation, as opposed to merely calling
up a mental concept or image. Because of its active
emotional focus, the Heart Lock-In imparts a state
that is physiologically distinct from that induced
by most relaxation exercises, whose main aim is to
lower arousal levels. Relaxation is associated with an
increase in parasympathetic activity, but generally
does not produce prolonged periods of physiologi-
cal coherence (see Figure 2). The coherent mode
previously described is also associated with a shift
in autonomic balance toward increased parasympa-
thetic activity, thus encompassing a main element
of the relaxation response, yet it is physiologically
distinct from relaxation because, unlike relaxation, it
is also characterized by system-wide resonance and
increased harmony and synchronization in nervous
system and heart-brain dynamics.
The increased physiological coherence gener-
ated in Steps 2 and 3 of the Heart Lock-In technique
reinforces and amplifies positive feeling states such
14
as appreciation, care, and love. As individuals prac-
tice Step 4, they may imagine themselves gently
emanating these feelings from the heart area. This
process is typically accompanied by feelings of deep
peacefulness, harmony, and a sense of inner warmth,
and is often an effective means to diffuse accumu-
lated stress and negative feelings. Also, in quieting
mental dialogue through this process, many report
the spontaneous emergence of an “intuitive clarity”
relative to problems or troublesome issues.
Many people find it beneficial to begin and
end their day with a Heart Lock-In. By using the
technique first thing in the morning, before negative
thoughts, worries, projections, or even “useful” plans
start to engage the mind, one can help set the emo-
tional tone for the day. This practice tends to anchor
feelings of appreciation, buoyancy, and emotional
stability, which increases the probability of carrying
such feelings over into and throughout the day, thus
reducing the likelihood of their being diminished by
daily hassles and stressful events. Likewise, at day’s
end, using this tool can help one unwind, rebalance,
and let go of worries, concerns, and negative feelings
that have accumulated throughout the day. Focusing
on heartfelt feelings of appreciation before going to
bed at night often leads to more peaceful and rejuve-
nating sleep and reduces the carry-over of negative
thoughts and emotions into the following day. Thus,
creating a coherent internal environment prepares
the physiological, mental, and emotional systems to
more fully derive the regenerative benefits of sleep.
Heart rhythm coherence feedback training
Heart rhythm feedback training is a powerful
tool to assist people in using positive emotion-focused
techniques effectively and learning to self-generate
increased physiological coherence.69 Technologies
have been developed that enable physiological
coherence to be objectively monitored and quanti-
fied. One such device is the Freeze-Framer heart
rhythm-monitoring and coherence-building system
(HeartMath LLC, Boulder Creek, CA). This interac-
tive hardware/software system monitors and displays
individuals’ heart rate variability patterns in real
time as they practice the positive emotion refocusing
and emotional restructuring techniques taught in an
on-line tutorial. Using a fingertip sensor to record
the pulse wave, the Freeze-Framer plots changes in
heart rate on a beat-to-beat basis. As people practice
the techniques, they can readily see and experience
the changes in their heart rhythm patterns, which
generally become more ordered, smoother, and
more sine wave-like as they feel appreciation and
Heart Lock-In Steps:
1. Gently shift your attention to the area around your heart.
2. Shift your breathing so that you are breathing in through the heart and out
through the solar plexus.
3. Activate a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in
your life.
4. Make a sincere effort to sustain feelings of appreciation, care or love while
radiating them to yourself and others.
5. When you catch your mind wandering, gently focus your breathing back
through the heart and solar plexus and reconnect with feelings of care or ap-
preciation.
(After you’ve finished, sincerely sustain your feelings of care and appreciation as long as you
can. This will act as a cushion against recurring stress or anxiety.)
15
other positive emotions. This process reinforces
the natural association between the physiological
coherence mode and positive feelings. The real-
time physiological feedback also essentially takes
the guesswork and randomness out of the process
of self-inducing a positive emotional state, resulting
in greater consistency, focus, and effectiveness in
practicing emotional shifts.
The software also analyzes the heart rhythm
patterns for coherence level, which is fed back to the
user as an accumulated score or success in playing
one of three on-screen games designed to reinforce
the emotion refocusing skills. Finally, the software
includes a multi-user database to store results and
track one’s progress.
Because this technology uses a fingertip pulse
sensor and involves no electrode hook-up, it is ex-
tremely versatile, time-efficient, and easy to use in
a wide variety of settings (e.g., workplaces, homes,
schools, etc.). Heart rhythm coherence feedback
training has been successfully used in diverse con-
texts by mental health professionals, physicians, law
enforcement personnel, educators, and corporate ex-
ecutives to decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and
fatigue; promote improved academic and work per-
formance; lower blood pressure; and facilitate health
improvements in numerous clinical disorders.
Intervention Studies
Beneficial psychological and health outcomes
associated with the use of positive emotion-focused
techniques and heart rhythm coherence feedback
training have been demonstrated across diverse
populations in both laboratory and field studies.70
Collectively, these results suggest that techniques
which foster feelings of appreciation and increase
physiological coherence are effective in producing
sustained improvements in many aspects of psycho-
logical and physical health and in general well-being
and performance. Further, results indicate that such
techniques are easily learned, have a high rate of
compliance, and are highly adaptable to a wide range
of demographic groups.
Health-related outcomes
The human body has an inherent capacity for
self-healing and regeneration. However, life’s hectic
pace coupled with frequent inefficient mental and
emotional activity can compromise the system’s
natural regenerative processes. The energy drains
produced by unmanaged emotions burden the sys-
tem, placing added stress on the entire body, and
can contribute to conditions such as fatigue, burn-
out, and increased susceptibility to both infectious
and chronic disease.71-74 The health implications are
substantial, as there is now abundant evidence that
the depletion of emotional energy plays a major and
largely unrecognized role in both the genesis and
aggravation of many health problems.75-79
By fostering a state of psychophysiological co-
herence, positive emotion-focused techniques help
individuals create an internal environment that is
conducive to both physical and emotional regenera-
tion. We suggest that such techniques are effective in
helping to build back energy that has been depleted
by persistent mental processing or negative emo-
tional arousal, thereby enhancing health and healing.
A number of research studies provide support for
this hypothesis, documenting both short-term and
long-term health benefits associated with the use of
positive emotion-focused techniques.
For example, studies have shown that practice
of the Heart Lock-In or Freeze-Frame technique with
a focus on appreciation, care, or compassion results
in a significant increase in levels of secretory IgA, the
predominant antibody class found in mucosal secre-
tions that serves as the body’s first line of defense
against pathogens.67, 80 Other research has docu-
mented significant favorable changes in hormonal
balance with regular practice of Heart Lock-In and
Cut-Thru (an emotional restructuring technique)59
over a period of 30 days. In a study of 30 subjects,
a 23% reduction in cortisol and a 100% increase in
DHEA were measured after one month of practic-
ing the tools. Increases in DHEA were significantly
correlated to increases in the affective construct of
Warmheartedness (represented by kindness, appre-
ciation, tolerance, and compassion), while decreases
in cortisol were significantly correlated to decreases
in Stress.23
Improvements in clinical status, emotional
well-being, and quality of life have also been dem-
onstrated in various medical patient populations in
intervention programs using positive emotion refo-
cusing and emotional restructuring approaches. For
16
example, significant blood pressure reductions have
been demonstrated in individuals with hypertension;81
improved functional capacity and reduced depression
in congestive heart failure patients;82 and improved
psychological health and quality of life in patients
with diabetes.83 Another study reported reductions
in pathological symptoms and anxiety and significant
improvements in positive affect, physical vitality, and
general well-being in individuals with HIV infection
and AIDS.84
Additionally, patient case history data provided
by numerous health care professionals report sub-
stantial improvements in health and psychological
status and frequent reductions in medication require-
ments in patients with such medical conditions as
cardiac arrhythmias, chronic fatigue, environmental
sensitivity, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.85 Finally,
positive emotion-focused techniques and heart
rhythm feedback have been used with great success
by mental health professionals in the treatment of
emotional disorders, including anxiety, depression,
panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.85
Many therapists find that emotional restructur-
ing techniques are an effective means to achieve
therapeutic release without retraumatization and
frequently shorten treatment time.
Organizational outcomes
We have examined the impact of positive
emotion-focused interventions and heart rhythm
feedback training in a diverse range of organizational
settings, including high-tech companies, government
agencies, global oil companies, hospitals, and law en-
forcement agencies. Collectively, this research shows
that interventions that focus on increasing positive
emotions can indeed be effectively implemented
in a wide variety of workplace settings, yielding
measurable improvements in both employee health
and well-being and in organizational performance.
Organizationally relevant outcomes documented
include increases in productivity, goal clarity, job
satisfaction, communication effectiveness, and
reductions in employee turnover.70, 81, 86-88 Positive
emotion-focused intervention programs have also
been used in helping organizations effectively meet
the demands of specific challenges, such as downsiz-
ing and restructuring initiatives.
Educational outcomes
Programs incorporating HeartMath tools and
techniques, introduced at the elementary, middle
school, high school, and college levels, have been
demonstrated to improve emotional well-being,
classroom behaviors, learning, and academic perfor-
mance.70, 89 In one study, 32 at-risk middle school stu-
dents exhibited significant improvements in nearly all
areas of psychosocial functioning assessed, including
stress and anger management, risky behavior, work
management and focus, and relationships with teach-
ers, family and peers. Furthermore, students were
able to use the Freeze-Frame technique to quickly
recover from acute emotional stress and positively
modulate their autonomic response to stress in real
time, thus demonstrating increased physiological
stress resiliency in relation to a control group.26
Another study examined the impact of Heart-
Math tools and technology on reducing test-taking
anxiety and improving test scores in high school
seniors. Students who had failed their state-required
exit exams and who needed to retake the tests in
order to graduate from high school participated
in a three-week intensive program. The course in-
cluded instruction in the Freeze-Frame and Heart
Lock-In techniques, with an emphasis on reducing
test-related anxiety and instilling greater emotional
stability and self-confidence. Students also received
heart rhythm feedback training to help them learn
how to self-generate physiological coherence. After
the program, the trained students demonstrated
improvements in test scores and passing rates that
represented one to two years’ growth in academic
skills and greatly exceeded those achieved through
standard academic preparation alone. As compared
to a control group, the trained students also demon-
strated significant reductions in hostility, depression,
interpersonal sensitivity, somatization, and other key
indices of psychological distress.90
In a study evaluating a program designed to
decrease anger, improve psychosocial well-being, and
engender forgiveness, Stanford University students
were taught the Freeze-Frame and Heart Lock-In
techniques in six weekly one-hour sessions. Par-
ticipants were assessed by psychological self-report
measures and their response to a vignette at base-
line, at the completion of the training, and again ten
weeks later. The students who received the training
17
demonstrated significant reductions in both trait and
reactive anger as well as interpersonal hurt, and were
more willing to use forgiveness as a problem-solving
strategy as compared to the control group. Among
the study group, there were also significant increases
in hopefulness, self-efficacy towards managing emo-
tion and interpersonal hurt, and measures assessing
personal growth, compassion, spiritual issues, and
quality of life. These results suggest that programs
that foster appreciation can be effective in modify-
ing psychosocial traits and facilitating the release of
negative emotions accumulated from past hurts in a
relatively brief period of time.91
Summary and Conclusion
Recent years have seen the emergence of a
growing body of data linking positive emotions to
the enhancement of human functioning. Collectively,
these findings are beginning to substantiate what
many people have long intuitively known—that
positive emotions not only feel good at the subjec-
tive level, but also bolster one’s ability to meet life’s
challenges with grace and ease, optimize cognitive
capacities, sustain constructive and meaningful
relationships with others, and foster good health.
The research findings discussed in this paper add to
this body of data by identifying and characterizing a
distinct mode of physiological functioning that is as-
sociated with the feeling of appreciation. This mode,
which we have termed physiological coherence, en-
compasses a number of related phenomena, including
entrainment, synchronization, and resonance, all
of which emerge from the efficient and harmonious
interactions of the body’s subsystems. We propose
that coherent mode may provide a potential physi-
ological link between positive emotions and a range of
favorable health-related, cognitive, and psychosocial
outcomes documented by an increasing number of
research studies.
The model of emotion discussed in this paper
suggests that the brain functions as a complex pat-
tern identification and matching system, and high-
lights the role of afferent bodily input in establishing
the familiar reference patterns that are critical in
ultimately determining emotional experience. As a
principal and consistent source of rhythmic informa-
tion patterns that impact the physiological, cognitive,
and emotional systems, the heart plays a particularly
important role in the generation and perception of
emotion.
We have demonstrated that emotions are re-
flected in the heart’s rhythms, and that by initiating
a change in heart rhythm patterns, it is often pos-
sible to bring about rapid and significant changes
in perception and emotional experience. Positive
emotion-focused techniques that couple a shift in the
heart’s rhythmic patterns with the intentional self-
induction of a heartfelt feeling of appreciation have
been shown to be effective means to reduce stress and
negative emotions in the moment and instill more
positive perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. Fur-
thermore, as individuals learn to increasingly sustain
positive emotions and physiological coherence with
consistent practice of such techniques, we suggest
that a repatterning process occurs whereby increased
physiological efficiency, mental acuity, and emotional
stability are established as a new, familiar baseline
or norm. The establishment of a new reference pat-
tern enables individuals increasingly to override
maladaptive perceptual, emotional, and behavioral
patterns accumulated through past experience and
to cultivate more positive emotions, attitudes, and
behaviors in daily life.
Positive emotion-focused techniques are easy
to learn and use, and appear to be highly generalizable
among individuals of diverse cultures, age groups,
socioeconomic status, and spiritual persuasions.
Studies conducted in laboratory, organizational,
clinical, and educational settings have demonstrated
both real-time and long-term improvements in emo-
tional well-being, performance, and health-related
measures with use of these techniques. Such ap-
proaches have also been used effectively by mental
health professionals in the treatment of individuals
with various affective disorders.
We have argued that for most people, the range
of genuine positive emotional experience is limited
by the automaticity of historical patterns that often
operate at a level below conscious awareness to color
perception, feelings, and behavior. It thus requires
conscious choice and commitment to begin to rec-
ognize and gradually replace these maladaptive pat-
terns with ones that are more appropriate, efficient,
and conducive to well-being. However, because
most people are not trained in emotional manage-
ment skills, in practice, the experience of positive
emotions remains largely dependent upon external
18
events and circumstances, rather than being within
one’s own conscious control. Heart-based positive
emotion-focused techniques therefore offer people a
simple and effective means to consciously intervene
to progressively bring more quality of emotional ex-
perience to their feeling world. It is our experience
that this process not only significantly reduces one’s
experience of stress, but can also lead to enduring
positive changes in one’s attitudes, relationships,
world view, and sense of self.
As increasing emphasis is placed on learning to
enrich the emotional aspects of our experience, we
anticipate that positive emotion-focused techniques
and intervention programs will be increasingly
integrated in clinical, workplace, and academic set-
tings for the enhancement of health, well-being, and
performance. It is our hope that such interventions
will help people to develop greater awareness and
understanding of their emotional responses, both
conscious and subconscious; to progressively learn
to direct these responses in ways that benefit their
health and well-being; and ultimately to take on a
more proactive role in the orchestration of their
own fulfillment.
HeartMath, Freeze-Frame, Heart Lock-In, and Cut-Thru are registered
trademarks of the Institute of HeartMath. Freeze-Framer is a registered
trademark of Quantum Intech, Inc.
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... There are many definitions of gratitude that has been defined by scholars and views on the relationship between gratitude and appreciation. However, while agreeing to the relationship between gratitude and appreciation, McCraty and Childre (2004) argued that appreciation does not contain negative feelings. It is way from someone to thank others on their achievements. ...
... It is way from someone to thank others on their achievements. Moreover, McCraty and Childre (2004) indicated that appreciation has an energetic quality that expressed an extraordinary feeling of thankfulness from one person to another person. According to Fagley (2016), he argued that appreciation is another aspect of appreciation under gratitude such as ritual and it considered as a higher-order construct. ...
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Reward system which consists of financial rewards and non-financial rewards has become essential to an organization in managing employees’ performance. Motivated employees can be a significant factor in organizational success. When employees are motivated to work at higher levels of productivity, the organization as a whole will run more efficiently and is more effective at reaching its goals. Literature review on the previous studies has proven that the reward system can motivate and subsequently increase employees’ performance. Reward system comes in many forms, for example, intrinsic rewards and extrinsic rewards. Thus, the organization must critically understand what types of reward system can motivate the employee to perform well in their job. The purpose of this research is to investigate the effects of the reward system in an organization on employee performance. The variable tested in this study includes salary, bonuses, appreciation and medical benefits. This study adopted a quantitative approach where 132 sets of questionnaires were distributed to the participants selected using convenience sampling. Data were then analyzed using SPSS software and a few analyses were carried out such as correlations analysis and regression analysis. The results show that all variables have a significant impact on employees’ performance. The results of this study can be used by the organization to improve its reward system and to ensure it could help in increasing the employees’ performance.
... Gratitude may lead to better quality and duration of sleep (Wood et al., 2009), decreased diastolic blood pressure (Jackowska et al., 2015), and fewer perceived physical symptoms and pain (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Interestingly, research into emotional physiology suggests that expressing gratitude affects the heart rhythm and increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to control hypertension and stress responses (McCraty & Childre, 2004). ...
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Introduction: Gratitude is known to have beneficial effects on the well-being of various populations, including women with breast cancer. The present diary study examined if daily feelings of gratitude would affect the daily functioning of women with breast cancer and if after a 2-week-long gratitude intervention they would function better than before it.Methods: Participants were 62 women with breast cancer. Half of them were randomly assigned to the gratitude condition, half to the control condition. All of them completed a 14-day diary that measured their daily gratitude, well-being, affect, satisfaction with life, perceived social support, and other aspects of daily functioning. The gratitude group took part in an intervention that involved wearing a smartwatch that asked them what they were grateful for, three times a day for 14 days. The control group wore smartwatches that sent neutral notifications. Before and after the study, participants completed a set of trait-level scales that measured their dispositional gratitude, depression, anxiety, stress coping styles, and other correlates of gratitude.Results: Daily gratitude was positively correlated with all aspects of good daily functioning (e.g., positive affect, well-being, acceptance of illness), and negatively with negative affect – regardless of the study condition. There were no significant differences in the functioning of women in the gratitude intervention and the control group, besides in daily perceived social support: women who practiced gratitude felt more supported by others on an everyday basis. All participants had a higher level of acceptance of illness and a lower level of anxiety after the study, compared to their baseline scores.Conclusion: We found that daily feelings of gratitude were associated with the good functioning of the patients in everyday life. Keeping a two-week diary that involved self-monitoring of one’s mood and well-being led to better functioning after the study, compared to the initial levels. Yet, research into the effectiveness of gratitude interventions in this population should continue and we conclude the paper with suggestions for future research. We believe this study contributes to the understanding of mechanisms behind a breast cancer patient’s daily functioning.
... The emotion of gratitude is intense, relatively brief and typically acute, triggering a cascade of changes in physiology, body temperature, facial expression and subjective experience (Emmons & Mishra, 2011;Fredrickson, 2004) and producing stable sine wave-like patterns in variations of heart rate, respiration and blood pressure (McCraty & Childre, 2004;Rash, Matsuba & Prkachin, 2011). Latest research has also shown some outcomes including consistent reductions in depression, negative affect, physical pain and somatic symptoms, as well as an overall increase in happiness and life satisfaction (Emmons & McCullough, 2003;Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004;Wood et al., 2008). ...
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Se revisan en base a los estudios de psicología social recientes las ocho creencias compartidas, mitos modernos o representaciones sociales sobre la creatividad más relevantes, como que la creatividad se basa en la generación de ideas, la libertad, autonomía y espontaneidad, es típica de niños y menos frecuente en los viejos, se basa en la inspiración, intuición, pensamiento divergente, emociones positivas y actividades de ocio. Se examina su prevalencia, su isomorfismo con teorías científicas, así como la evidencia y teorías que las contradicen. Se discute sus implicaciones para la aceptación de programas de formación en creatividad.
... The emotion of gratitude is intense, relatively brief and typically acute, triggering a cascade of changes in physiology, body temperature, facial expression and subjective experience (Emmons & Mishra, 2011;Fredrickson, 2004) and producing stable sine wave-like patterns in variations of heart rate, respiration and blood pressure (McCraty & Childre, 2004;Rash, Matsuba & Prkachin, 2011). Latest research has also shown some outcomes including consistent reductions in depression, negative affect, physical pain and somatic symptoms, as well as an overall increase in happiness and life satisfaction (Emmons & McCullough, 2003;Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004;Wood et al., 2008). ...
... But well-being, being a broad term, could be defined in alternative ways than the framework used in this review (e.g., the PERMA model as described by Seligman, 2011) and could include other indicators such as physical well-being (Lavelock et al., 2016;Kern et al., 2015). Gratitude impacts physiological and cardiovascular system responses in a way that controls stress and promotes well-being in adults (McCraty, 2004), and a negative relation has been found between gratitude and physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and lack of appetite in children (Froh, Kashdan et al., 2009, Froh, Yurkewicz et al., 2009. Physical health therefore could be another consideration for upcoming research on children's gratitude and well-being. ...
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