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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Heart Control

In 1975 I was an undergraduate at Ohio State University when I volunteered to be paid for psycho-physiological testing.  I wanted the extra money and I thought the process would be interesting.  Little did I know it would be life-sustaining.

Back then it was called the OSU Behavioral Sciences Laboratory; but now it is the OSU Department of Psychology (; wherein "Our research investigates basic social psychological phenomena like attitude formation, attitude change, and the relationship between attitudes and behavior, as well as the automatic and controlled cognitive* processes that guide our social behavior.  We Study (sic) these phenomena as they apply..."  (emphasis added)


I was assigned to what appeared to be an automatic and controlled cognitive processes study.  This was very interesting to me, even exciting. I had questions! I showed up for my time slot at the behavior sciences lab and was brusquely directed to sit in front of a monitor and be silent.  Then the test administer, a lab tech or maybe a youngish professor conducting this study, wired me up to a heart monitor.  I already knew that I have a skittery, highly irregular heartbeat but he had specifically told me not to speak so I kept mum.  He said, "Watch this." and disappeared behind a screen.  Across the monitor flickered images of puppies, kittens, happy people, oops then very unhappy people, then people in distressing circumstances, then back to puppies playing, and so on.  Naturally my heart was as steady as it ever gets while I watched the cute animals and my heart lurched uncomfortably when I saw people in bad circumstances.  Sooo, I quickly got bored, and I tired of the discomfort in my heart, and for fun, for a goof, I controlled my heart.  It had only taken seconds for me to understand the physical-psychological connection between the emotional value, positive or negative, of the images on the monitor and the performance of my heart.  Sooo, I made my heart race for puppies and I slowed it way down to almost stopping for traumatic images.  (I knew this was counter to his study but it erved the guy right for showing me ugly images without warning.)  Within thirty seconds the test administrator came rushing in, checking the wires, adjusting the equipment, side-eying my hands to see what I might have been up to.  I just sat there taking it all in.  Finally he spoke to me.  He asked if I knew why my test results were the opposite of what he expected.  I said, "Well, I controlled my heart."  He wanted to argue it with me, "No, the heart functions autonomously, you cannot control it."  I just looked at him, refusing to be drawn into such a dumb argument.  I do not recall whether or not he asked me to repeat what I could do in front of him, I got the impression that I was an outlier that he did not want in his test results.  I do recall that he was quite grumpy when he paid me, in cash, for my participation. I thought cash payment was odd, but then it was the psych-o department.  :-)  He should have paid me extra for over-performing.  ;-)  He could have taken advantage of the new perspective I had had on his experiment.


I myself was quite pleased with my new skill, a sort of control over my irregular heart.  And in the years to come, when my heart lurched and skittered painfully, or even on several occasions when my heart actually stopped, I knew how to find it and connect my will to live with my tired old heart and nudge it to beat. I am grateful for this.


*  "Automatic cognition refers to thinking that occurs out of our awareness, quickly, and without taking much effort. It is the ability to act without really thinking, which happens when a behavior becomes over-learned1. Automatic thinking is an instinctive, unconscious, highly efficient mental process that we have no control over or awareness of. This type of information processing generally occurs outside of conscious awareness and is common when undertaking familiar and highly practiced tasks." — random internet source


Heart Control

by Annmarie Throckmorton, copyright 2024



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