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Gut Feelings: Vagal Stimulation Reduces Emotional Biases

Stimulating the vagus nerve, which provides a direct link between the gut and brain, makes people pay less attention to sad facial expressions. This research study by psychologists Katerina Johnson and Laura Steenbergen is published in the journal Neuroscience, and made it to the cover.

Katerina Johnson & Laura Steenbergen
28 June 2022
Neuroscience - Gut Feelings: Vagal Stimulation Reduces Emotional Biases

Nervus vagus

The researchers used a non-invasive method, called transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation to lightly stimulate the vagus nerve by applying a small electric current to the skin in the ear and measured whether, compared to a ‘placebo-stimulation’, this changed how participants processed emotional stimuli. 

Reduced attention to sad faces

The key finding from this study was that stimulating the vagus nerve reduced the attention participants paid to sad faces. Johnson: “This is the first study to investigate whether vagal signalling in healthy people alters emotional processing.  Our results demonstrate the role that vagal signalling can play in influencing human emotion and highlight the need to further investigate the importance of this neural pathway in mediating the connection between the gut microbiome and our brain.” 

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