You are watching a horror movie, all alone in your home and suddenly you felt something move. You scream. Panic rises and your heart starts beating loudly. Then, there comes the queasy feeling deep inside your gut that something bad is about to happen.
In a recent yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study led by researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome, this stomach-churning feeling is more than just nerves as your gastric system is really prepared for the worst.
According to the findings of the study, there is a strong connection between the gut’s reaction and the brain’s response to a threatening situation. The study also revealed that the gastric response also plays a crucial role in the emotional response of the human body.
In the new study, psychologist Giuseppina Porciello led a small team of researchers in an investigation into the “endoluminal milieu of the GI system” using ingestible sensors that can measure acidity, temperature, and pressure as they pass through the digestive system.
During the study, a sample of 31 healthy men without any known psychological, neurological, or digestive disorders were asked to swallow a ‘smart pill’, which contained a sensor, battery, and wireless transmitter. Later, the participants were then asked to participate in four viewing sessions that featured 9-second long video-clips selected for their happy, disgusting, sad, and fearful content. Incidentally, neutrally-emotive content was also woven into the sessions to serve as a control.
Meanwhile, the ‘smart pill’ was collecting data from within, pinging back details from the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Earlier studies suggested that gastric sensations were raised during fearful scenes, topping out while watching the disgusting clips. The scientists also found that breathing was also elevated, as it was during the sad scenes.
The researchers also found that the digestive system was squirting more stomach acid into the cavity. As the volunteers watched the disgusting video-clips, their gastric pH dropped leading to increase in acidic nature. The more disgusted or fearful they felt, the lower the pH, the scientists found.
The scientists maintain that these findings can help in understanding conditions related to bowel or digestive disorders, and how they might impact our mental states. This research is available on the preprint site bioRxiv.