Memory and Fear Affected By Breathing Rhythm, Study Says

Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered the way people breathe has an impact on their memory and fear response. And it all depends on whether you are inhaling or exhaling through your nose.

Published in the “Journal of Neuroscience” lead author and professor of neurology, Jay Gottfried, discovered individuals were able to remember something if they see an object while they inhaled versus when they exhaled. However, the difference in memory was negated if the individual was breathing through their mouth.

In addition, researchers revealed that fear responses was also impacted by inhaling through the nose. To test emotional judgement, researchers asked test subjects to look at several different faces. The results of the study showed subjects were more likely to identify a fearful face, if they saw the face while they were inhaling in comparison to exhaling.

How did researchers at Northwestern University make this discovery? It all started with epileptic patients. Seven individuals diagnosed with epilepsy were to undergo brain surgery. Prior to the surgery, neurosurgeons implanted a device to measure the electrical activity inside the patient’s brain to determine the reason why the seizures were taking place.

Vector image of the Amygdala. Amygdala is known for regulating fight or flight responses in humans and animals (CLIPAREA l Custom media/

That is when researchers made a discovery, electrical activities in the brain’s amygdala, which is known for regulating fight or flight responses in humans and animals, and the hippocampus, which is associated with memory function, changed based upon the patient’s breathing rhythm.

Researchers then analyzed the breathing rhythms and their fear response of sixty subjects. Scientists showed pictures of faces with different facial expressions. Meanwhile, researchers recorded their breathing rhythm. When the test subjects encountered a picture of someone who is afraid, they were more quickly to identify that picture when they inhaled in comparison to when they exhaled.

Vector image of the Hippocampus. Hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with memory function (CLIPAREA l Custom media/

In order to test the hippocampus and the relationship between breathing and memory, the same subjects were then shown pictures of objects and then asked to recall those objects. Researchers discovered the subjects were more likely to remember the object if they saw it while they inhaled in comparison to when they exhaled.

Ultimately, Northwestern University researchers argue that rapid-breathing could help with memory and emotional responses in treacherous situations.


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