Study shows brain can be tricked into thinking body is working harder than it is

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in France and Italy has found that the human brain can be tricked into thinking the body is working harder than it actually is. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes experiments they conducted with volunteers riding exercise bikes, and what they learned from them.

People can feel differently during different exercises—sometimes, they feel like they have jogged a long way, for example, but the pedometer tells a different story. Oftentimes, estimates of exertion depend on heart rate. In this new effort, the researchers sought to learn more about the complicated relationship between hearts and minds.

The experiments were quite simple. Eighteen volunteers rode exercise bikes while wearing headphones. The riding regimen was varied and the riders heard the sound of a beating heart through their headphones. In some cases, the heart beat was slow, other times it was fast. After riding, each volunteer was asked how hard the felt they had worked while riding the bike.

The researchers discovered that the volunteers judged themselves working harder than they actually were when they listened to a fast heartbeat. But they also found that they did not judge themselves working less hard if they were listening to a slower-than-normal heartbeat.

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