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Listen To Your Heart - Psychology Today

How Interoception Shapes Emotional Experiences

Let’s start with a fun exercise: adopt a resting position such as sitting comfortably on a chair or lying on your back. Remain still for a minute or two and breathe evenly until your body is calm and you feel relaxed. Now concentrate on your heartbeat. Without manually checking, try and feel your heart pounding inside your chest. Are you able to sense the internal signal?

Some people are better than others at this task, and if you are able to perceive your heartbeat well, chances are you have high interoceptive accuracy. In this article, I will outline how interoceptive accuracy shapes emotional experiences, how it goes wrong in autism and alexithymia, and how it might contribute to emotional intelligence, empathyand stress resilience.

Interoceptive sensitivity is generally known as the ability to feel the internal signals from our body such as heart rate, breathing, and gastrointestinal functions.

Sarah Garfinkel and colleagues (Garfinkel et al., 2015) recently described a number of methods to measure people’s interoceptive skills in the science lab. One measure is the heartbeat counting task(Schandry, 1981). Similar to the above exercise, people are asked to silently count their heartbeat for a variable duration of 30 seconds to 1 minute. Meanwhile, a pulse oximeter attached to their index finger tracks the individual’s actual heartbeat. The greater the overlap between people’s perceived and actual heartbeats, the better their interoceptive accuracy.


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