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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Lovers’ hearts beat in sync, study finds

UC Davis researcher Jonathan Helm hooks up a heart monitor on student Alex Schade to demonstrate how to monitor couples for heart rates and respiration. Emilio Ferrer, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

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From page A9 | February 10, 2013 |

When modern-day crooner Trey Songz sings, “Cause girl, my heart beats for you,” in his romantic ballad, “Flatline,” his lyrics could be telling a tale that’s as much physiological as it is emotional, according to a UC Davis study that found lovers’ hearts indeed beat for each other, or at least at the same rate.

Emilio Ferrer, a psychology professor who has conducted a series of studies on couples in romantic relationships, found that couples connected to monitors measuring heart rates and respiration get their heart rate in sync, and they breathe in and out at the same intervals.

To collect the data, the researchers conducted a series of exercises, sitting 32 heterosexual couples a few feet away from each other in a quiet, calm room. The couples did not speak or touch.

“We’ve seen a lot of research that one person in a relationship can experience what the other person is experiencing emotionally, but this study shows they also share experiences at a physiological level,” Ferrer said.

The couples, in one of the exercises, were asked to sit across from each other and mimic each other, but still not speak, and researchers collected very similar results.

The researchers also mixed up the data from the couples. When the two individuals were not from the same couple, their hearts did not show synchrony, nor did their breathing closely match.

Additionally, both partners showed similar patterns of heart rate and respiration, but women tended to adjust theirs to their partners more. This was true not only for physiological but for day-to-day emotional experiences as well.

“In other words, we found that women adjust in relationship to their partners,” said Jonathan Helm, a UCD psychology doctoral student and primary author of the study. “Her heart rate is linked to her partner’s. I think it means women have a strong link to their partners — perhaps more empathy.”

The research was published in two recent papers by the American Psychological Association. David Sbarra, of the University of Arizona department of psychology, co-authored the papers.

The National Science Foundation supported the research.

— UC Davis News Service

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