From as early as Darwin, theorists have proposed that one function of emotion is to control our physiological processes in relation to stimuli. This relationship between the physiological response system and emotion is referred to as “coherence.” This study posits that coherence is one of the primary functions of emotion and that “the construct of coherence is typically associated with a functionalist perspective:namely, that coherence across response systems is adaptive, creating optimal conditions for the organism to cope successfully with significant challenges and opportunities.”
Based on this theoretical foundation, the researchers of this study set out to determine whether there was a difference in the level of mind-body coherence between people trained in Vipassana meditation or dance – two types of training that emphasize a connection to the body.
For the study 21 Vipassana meditators, 21 dancers, and 21 control participants were collected and each individually were made to watch a series of films designed to induce varying degrees of positive and negative emotions for a 90-minute period.
As the participants were watching the films, they were required to rate their emotion continually, using a rating scale. All the while each participant's heart-rate was being monitored. The purpose of this procedure was to determine how well the self-reported rating of emotion was correlated to changes in heart-rate.
The results showed that Vipassana meditators exhibited the highest level of coherence, followed by dancers, and the lowest coherence was found amongst the control group.
The researchers considered whether there was a possibility that people with certain personality characteristics were drawn to these different activities, and, if so, whether those differences could have impacted their level of coherence. However, following the administration of standardized personality tests, it was found that there were no significant measurable differences in personality characteristics between the groups as a whole that could have affected this outcome.
The study was published in the journal Emotion in December 2010, to read the abstract click here.