A study published online on April 8 in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience asserts that heartbeat variation affects one’s wisdom. The researchers from the University of Waterloo state that those with greater heart rate variability have brains with better executive functioning that allows them to make less biased and wiser judgment.

“Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says Igor Grossmann, professor of psychology at Waterloo. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study is the first one to identify which psychophysiological mechanisms affect wise judgment. It explains heart variability as the variation in the time interval between each heartbeat.


Personification of wisdom (in Greek, Σοφία or Sophia) at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey. Photo from Wikipedia/Radomil

It states that wise judgment consists of acknowledging other people’s views, agreement of different views, being aware of one’s own knowledge limitations and knowing different contexts of life.

When the researchers asked the participants to reflect on a social issue from a third person point of view, those with less biased and wiser judgments have more heart rate variations. However, the research team did not find any association between wise judgment and heart rate when the participants were asked to reflect on the issue from a first person perspective.

“We already knew that people with a greater variation in their heart rate show superior performance in the brain’s executive functioning such as working memory,” adds Grossmann. “However, that does not necessarily mean these people are wiser – in fact, some people may use their cognitive skills to make unwise decisions. To channel their cognitive abilities for wiser judgment, people with greater heart rate variability first need to overcome their egocentric viewpoints.”

The researchers believe that their study will pave the way for other investigations that will look into the link between wisdom and physiological process.