May 04, 2017
from PreventDisease Website
People who are more aware of their heartbeat are better at perceiving the emotions of people around them. What's more, improving this ability might help some people with autism and schizophrenia.
If so, you are perceiving your internal state - a process called interoception. (Interoception - The sense of the Physiological Condition of the Body.)
It's thought that to
generate emotions, we first need to interpret our body's internal
state of affairs.
But researchers have also speculated that interoception is important for understanding what other people are thinking, and even guessing what they think a third person might be thinking - known as theory of mind.
The idea is that if we have trouble distinguishing our own emotions, we might also find it hard to interpret the emotions - and corresponding mental states of others.
The participants then watched videos of various social interactions. After each clip, they were asked multiple-choice questions that tested their ability to infer the characters' mental states.
For instance, one scene showed a man called Tom trying to flirt with a girl called Gemma, who was clearly interested in a second, shyer man, Barry.
Some questions required the participants to understand the emotions of a certain character - for instance,
Participants who were better at counting their own heartbeat performed better on such questions.
But there was no link between interoceptive abilities and accuracy on theory of mind questions that didn't involve any emotions, such as,
This suggests that our ability to interpret signals from our own body only helps us understand the thoughts of others when emotion is a factor.
Bird says that interoceptive difficulties probably play a role in a range of symptoms experienced by some people with conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.
For instance, some people with autism find loud noises and bright lights upsetting.
These things are linked to interoception, making our hearts beat faster and raising our level of arousal.
One way to do this is to get people to listen to a tone that beats in time with their heart and gets quieter over time.
There's also some evidence that looking in a mirror can improve interoception.
We don't know yet what effect such training might have on our ability to discriminate between our own emotions and those of other people.