When we get nervous, our hearts beat faster. We can’t help it – or so we are led to think. Against popular opinion, psychologist Neal Elgar Miller believed in controlling the uncontrollable.
Through his study of biofeedback, he pioneered the concept that seemingly involuntary physical responses can be manipulated by the mind.
In 1967, Miller demonstrated that thirsty dogs can decrease their salivating in order to obtain water as a reward.
Later, he tested his theory on people paralyzed by gunshot wounds. These patients were able to increase their dangerously low blood pressures by watching their own real-time vital readings and thinking certain – often erotic – thoughts.
Today, the foundation of Miller’s theory is used in therapies for a variety of conditions, from incontinence to anxiety.
“I get an especial aesthetic pleasure from theories and experiments that fit neatly and parsimoniously together to reveal a better understanding of how the laws of nature work,” he wrote in his autobiography.