Anxiety and the Peristaltic Movement of the Digestive Tract ANXIETY INHIBITS THE PERISTALTIC ACTIVITY
At the end of the nineteenth century, while he was still a student, Cannon worked with X-rays, which had recently been made operational, to explore the physiological functioning of the digestive system. He accidentally discovered that an emotional disturbance blocks the motor activity of the stomach, and the return to a more serene state promptly restores the peristaltic movements of the digestive tract.47 This research confirmed the observations that a general practitioner, William Beaumont, had made on one of his patients.48 Edmund Jacob-son, who had been a student of Cannon, undertook research in psychophysiology in Chicago, and he established that anxiety influences not only the stomach but also the motility of the duodenum, the esophagus, and the colon.49
Between the two world wars, most physicians and psychologists thought that the emotions influenced the behavior of the digestive tract.50 Like the rest of Cannon’s work, this theme disappeared from serious discussions during the 1960s without being invalidated.51 It was considered trivial and without influence on the evolution of psychosomatic practice and theory. Trygve Braatoy,52 for example, mentions as if it were self-evident that the releasing of the stretching reflexes and of yawning, as well as peristaltic gurgling, are an evident sign of relaxation that often accompanies in a spontaneous way a postural and muscular release.
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