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Interoception: the hidden sense that shapes wellbeing

There’s growing evidence that signals sent from our internal organs to the brain play a major role in regulating emotions and fending off anxiety and depression

Sun 15 Aug 2021 08.00 BST

If you’re sitting in a safe and comfortable position, close your eyes and try to feel your heart beating in your chest. Can you, without moving your hands to take your pulse, feel each movement and count its rhythm? Or do you struggle to detect anything at all? This simple test is just one way to assess your “interoception” – your brain’s perception of your body’s state, transmitted from receptors on all your internal organs.

Interoception may be less well known than the “outward facing” senses such as sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, but it has enormous consequences for your wellbeing. Scientists have shown that our sensitivity to interoceptive signals can determine our capacity to regulate our emotions, and our subsequent susceptibility to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

It is now one of the fastest moving areas in neuroscience and psychology, with academic conferences devoted to the subject and a wealth of new papers emerging every month. “We are seeing an exponential growth in interoceptive research,” says Prof Manos Tsakiris, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London.

My main ones are I’m quite often mildly dehydrated due to poor recognition of thirst. Difficulty telling I’m full up after eating. Never been able to take my pulse. Dxes= ASD + schizophrenia


  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    I can't tell when I'm too hot or cold (at least until I start feeling unwell from those things), and I also can't tell when I'm hungry or full. If I don't schedule when I eat I'll usually only eat when I feel unwell from not doing so. I do notice when I'm thirsty, but I couldn't when I was a kid.
  • AmityAmity Administrator, Citizen
    I dont know if I am imagining feeling my heartbeat...

    If I'm focussed on something for hours, I often dont notice any body signals, but im not certain that is the same as not being able to percieve my internal state?

    If im relaxed, I think Im more attuned to my inward facing senses.

  • Due to specific issues, I would imagine neurodiverse people will struggle much more with this.

    But I think many people these days don't connect that well anymore with their bodies and physical sensations and I've been surprised how often I hear (neurotypical) people saying that they can't tell the difference between hunger or thirst, or other rather specific signals (pain, discomfort) their body uses to tell them something is wrong. It's almost as if they don't realise that the body and mind aren't really independent of each other.
  • I can’t tell when I am thirsty. I can’t tell when I am full until I am overfull. I can’t tell when I’m cold until I’m nearly hypothermic. I don’t realize I am too hot if I don’t have sweating to go along with it. I can’t describe pain to doctors or intensity thereof. 

  • TemTem Citizen
    edited August 2021
    There are quite a few approaches in psychology that use some kind of inward focusing. Gendlin developed a therapy around this and others have used this in mindfulness and other ways of promoting well being. The buddhists and hindus have known these not so secret practices for thousands of years. East meets west.

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