Psychology student hits right note at conference

Published: 23 May 2018 at 15:04

Farah Hina

Farah Hina of Anglia Ruskin wins national BPS award for her study into musicians

Research showing that musicians are more in tune with their own body than non-musicians has won the best poster prize at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Nottingham.

The work was led and presented by Farah Hina, a final year BSc (Hons) Psychology student at Anglia Ruskin University.  Runner-up prizes went to delegates from the University of Cambridge and the University of Bristol.

Farah wanted to test whether musicians, with their superior sense of rhythm, would be better at perceiving their own heartbeats than non-musicians. She tested 20 musicians and 20 non-musicians by asking them to count the number of heartbeats they felt ‘in their chest’ – without feeling their pulse.

Their estimate was compared with the actual number of heartbeats, as measured via ECG electrodes on their chests. The comparison generates a measure of ‘interoceptive sensitivity’ – how accurate an individual is at sensing their own heartbeat – something that varies widely across different people.

Farah also measured how participants’ brains responded to the signals from their hearts, by placing electrodes on their scalps while they counted their heartbeats.

The results show that musicians were significantly better at detecting their heartbeats than non-musicians. Given that music is a way of expressing emotion, the findings might be related to the link between emotional intensity and heartbeat detection ability.

Farah’s supervisor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Flavia Cardini, said:

“The results show an association between musical ability and heartbeat detection but we don’t know whether being more in tune with one’s heart facilitates musical ability or whether the reverse is true.

“To investigate this it would be necessary to follow people who had just started to learn a musical instrument to check if their heartbeat detection improves with musical training.

“For Farah to win the overall British Psychological Society prize is an incredible achievement, particularly as she was one of only a few undergraduates presenting.  Also, for an undergraduate student to stand up and talk about their work in front of so many people, at such an important conference, takes a lot of courage. We are all very proud of Farah.”