Inspiration

Research Feature: Tapping May Actually Affect the Way Your Brain Processes Emotion

Written by: Nick Ortner

There is a lot of scientific evidence showing Tapping to be extremely effective for anxiety (you can read more about it here if you are interested).[1]

In the past, most of the research that has been done has looked at self-reported measures of anxiety, meaning people fill out questionnaires that tell the researchers how anxious they feel before and after Tapping sessions.

For a long time, we could see that Tapping definitely helped people to feel less anxious, but we didn’t know the mechanisms behind how exactly it did that.

But as each year passes, more and more research is being done that looks at what happens inside of our brains and bodies when we do Tapping.

We now know that Tapping is associated with changes in stress hormone levels, gene expression, and more… all things that can help explain how Tapping works and how it might help people with stress and anxiety.[2-5]

Today, I want to highlight one of the research studies that provided some interesting insight about how Tapping might work. In the study, the researchers investigated how Tapping affects emotional processing and emotional regulation in the brain.

What did the researchers want to know?

The study we are going to take a look at today was published in the journal Brain Science in 2019. The aim of this study was to uncover one of the potential mechanisms behind how Tapping benefits anxiety.[6]

The investigators wanted to explore whether or not Tapping could affect the way the brain processes emotions. This is important, because it is known that people with anxiety present with distorted emotional regulation. When faced with potentially threatening stimuli, people with anxiety tend to experience higher emotional arousal than others.

Well-established treatments for anxiety like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) work in part by helping to promote more balanced emotional processing and greater emotional regulation.

If Tapping could positively impact the way that anxious individuals process emotions, it might at least partly explain why Tapping can help anxious people feel less anxious. 

What did the researchers do?

In the study, the researchers took a group of people with anxiety and divided them into two groups. One group was treated with EFT Tapping and the other was treated with progressive muscle relaxation for comparison. Progressive muscle relaxation is an established therapy for anxiety that is known to work well.

For the experiment, all participants were asked to listen to a series of words. The participants listened to each word four times; the words were delivered once in a neutral way, once in a happy way, once in an angry way, and once in a fearful way.

While the participants listened to the words, the researchers used EEG technology to measure a specific type of brain activity referred to as Latent Positive Potential (LPP). LPP has been shown in previous research to correlate with emotional regulation. The higher the LPP, the more emotionally aroused someone is and the less emotionally regulated they are.

This allowed the researchers to see how high the participants’ emotional arousal was when they were confronted with different emotions like anger or fear.

After one round of listening to the list of words conveyed in the different emotions, the participants then had either a Tapping session or a progressive muscle relaxation session. 

Following the Tapping or the progressive muscle relaxation, the participants repeated the same experience again of listening to words conveyed in a happy, angry, fearful, and neutral way. Again, their brain activity was measured using EEG to assess how emotionally regulated they were.

With the data from the experiment, the researchers were able to assess whether Tapping led to any significant changes in emotional processing. They also got to see how Tapping compared to progressive muscle relaxation as a treatment option.

What did the results show? 

The authors of the study found that emotional arousal was lower after the participants did Tapping compared to before a Tapping session. This was shown by reduced LPP measurements from the EGG after the Tapping intervention – suggesting greater emotional regulation.

Basically, when the participants were presented with strong emotions like anger or fear, they weren’t as negatively impacted after they had a Tapping session. 

As the study authors conclude, “Tapping induced neural changes in emotional processing in anxiety.”[6]

Another interesting finding was that while progressive muscle relaxation also helped to improve emotional regulation in the brain, it turns out that Tapping and progressive muscle relaxation each had a unique effect. While progressive muscle relaxation generally reduced arousal the most when people heard words spoken in a fearful way, Tapping generally reduced arousal the most when the participants heard words spoken in an angry way.

This is interesting, because when we are spoken to in an angry way, it can often bring about feelings of fear or anxiety. As the study authors put it, “Tapping specifically affected fear-eliciting, angry stimuli, and might thus be able to reduce anxiety symptoms.”[6]

The study results suggest that Tapping may be particularly helpful in allowing people with anxiety to stay more regulated when confronted with something scary.

The bottom line

I know we covered a lot of technical words and science terms today. So, let’s take a moment to break this research down into simple terms.

Basically, this study helped us to understand more about the mechanisms behind how Tapping might work, and how specifically it might help to reduce anxiety. 

The results demonstrated that Tapping helps people remain more regulated when faced with emotionally charged stimuli – especially emotional stimuli that might make them afraid or anxious. Reduced emotional arousal and greater emotional regulation after a Tapping session may at least partly explain how Tapping can help people with anxiety to better cope and feel better.

Pretty cool, right?

I love when the research helps us learn more about the science behind Tapping. It is so cool to not just know that Tapping really works, but to know more about how it works, too!

If you’d like to experience the benefits of Tapping for anxiety relief for yourself, head over to The Tapping Solution App to try out one of our most popular guided meditations, “Releasing Anxiety.”

And for a deeper dive into Tapping for anxiety, check out this blog. 

Until next time, keep Tapping!
Nick Ortner

References

  1. Clond M. Emotional Freedom Techniques for Anxiety: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2016;204(5):388-395. 
  2. Church D, Yount G, Brooks AJ. The effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: a randomized controlled trial. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012;200(10):891-896.
  3. Stapleton P, Crighton G, Sabot D, O’Neill HM. Reexamining the effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Psychol Trauma. 2020;12(8):869-877.
  4. Maharaj, ME. Differential Gene Expression after Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Treatment: A Novel Pilot Protocol for Salivary mRNA Assessment. Energy Psychology Journal. 2016;8(1):17-32. doi:10.9769/EPJ.2016.8.1.MM
  5. Church D, Yount G, Rachlin K, Fox L, Nelms J. Epigenetic Effects of PTSD Remediation in Veterans Using Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques: A Randomized Controlled Pilot StudyAm J Health Promot. 2018;32(1):112-122. doi:10.1177/0890117116661154
  6. König N, Steber S, Seebacher J, von Prittwitz Q, Bliem HR, Rossi S. How Therapeutic Tapping Can Alter Neural Correlates of Emotional Prosody Processing in Anxiety. Brain Sci. 2019;9(8):206. Published 2019 Aug 19. 


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