Cognitive Science: An Introduction/Interoception



Interoception is defined as the awareness of one’s body being directly linked to self-identity. The overall understanding of having a sense of “me”.[1] Being interoceptive would involve relating a stimuli produced within an organism, especially in the gut and other internal organs. Invalid parameter in <ref> tag,

The Neuroscience of Interoception


The neuroscience behind Interoception is still being heavily researched, however it is believed this operating system functions in the same manner as any other internal system. From the many years of research conducted from the use of fMRI machines and willing patients it can be concluded that interoceptive activity has enhanced action in the bilateral areas regions of the lateral somatomotorcortex, anterior insula and supplementary motor cortex when compared to exteroceptive activity. In further comparison, the occipital cortex demonstrated decreased activity when focusing attention onto the heartbeat. [2],

The Common Forms of Interoception

  • Pain: physical pain or discomfort caused by injury or illness [3],
  • Itch: an uncomfortable sensation on the skin that is alleviated through scratching [3],
The interoceptive feeling of itching can be often relieved by scratching.
  • Hunger: The motivation state in humans that drives our desire to eat and obtain nutrients [3],
  • Thirst: A feeling of needing or desiring something to drink [3],
  • Internal Temperature
  • Breathlessness: the feeling associated with impaired breathing [3],
  • Emotions
  • Sexual arousal
  • Temporal sense: the sense of time passing.
  • Pulmonary stretch receptors: are within the lungs and control respiration rate.
  • Peripheral chemoreceptors: in the brain monitor the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. A low amount of carbon dioxide will cause a feeling of suffocation.
  • The chemoreceptor trigger zone: is an area in the brain, specifically the medulla that receives inputs from blood-borne drugs or hormones, and communicates with the vomiting centre as a reflex to remove the toxins.
  • Chemoreceptors: in the circulatory system that measures salt levels and promote thirst if they get too high; they can also respond to high sugar levels in diabetics.
  • Cutaneous receptors: in the skin not only respond to touch, pressure, and temperature, but also respond to vasodilation in the skin such as blushing.
  • Stretch receptors: in the gastrointestinal tract sense gas distension that may result in colic pain.
  • Stimulation of sensory receptors: in the esophagus result in sensations felt in the throat when swallowing, vomiting, or during acid reflux.
  • Sensory receptors: in pharynx mucosa similar to touch receptors in the skin, sense foreign objects such as food that may result in a gag reflex and related gagging sensation.
  • Stimulation of sensory receptors: in the urinary bladder and rectum may result in sensations of fullness that indicates needing to go to the bathroom.
  • Stimulation of stretch sensors: that sense dilation of various blood vessels may result in pain, for example headache. [4],

How Interoception is Developed


The sense of self is established from the integration of exterior signals from the environment to interior senses such as vision, touch and smell. The multisensory integration carries information about the body as perceived from the outside, and represents only one channel of information available for self-awareness. Interoception is the universal information channel used to represent one’s body from within [1].

Interoception and Autism


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been associated with various sensory irregularities across multiple domains. Interoception, the ability to detect and attend to internal bodily sensations, has been found to moderate the experience of body ownership, a known difference in ASD that may affect social function. In the current study, 45 children (21 with ASD and 24 controls) ages 8 to 17 years completed a heartbeat perception pattern as a measure of interoceptive ability. A subset of these children also completed the rubber hand illusion task. Overall across both groups, children with ASD were superior at mentally tracking their heartbeats over longer intervals. This suggested increased ability to sustain attention to internal cues in ASD. In addition, IA was negatively correlated with rubber hand illusion susceptibility in both groups, supporting the previously demonstrated inverse relationship between internal awareness and the ability for one to incorporate external stimuli into one's perception of self. It is proposed a trade-off between attention to internal cues and attention to external cues, whereby attentional resources are disproportionately allocated to internal, rather than external, sensory cues in ASD. Overall there was no group difference in IA overall, as measured by heartbeat perception using the mental tracking method. ASD does not seem to be characterized by either unusally enhanced or diminished IA. However, when considering differences between the shortest (25 s) and longest (100 s) tracking intervals from the rubber band test, children with ASD did not show the same decrease in accuracy for the longest time interval as their typical development equals. This suggests that individuals with ASD demonstrate a heightened ability to sustain attention to internal cues over longer durations. Thus, in contrast to various psychiatric populations that show a general deficit or advantage in heartbeat detection accuracy that could be attributed to either perceptual or attentional differences, ASD seems to be characterized by a specific increased ability to sustain attention to these internal bodily cues. [5],

Interoception in Cognitive Science and it’s relation to the Theory of the Mind Test.


A substantial amount of scientific evidence suggests that making sense of another’s intentional and belief states (i.e. theory of mind) relies on exteroceptive (e.g. visual and auditory) and proprioceptive (i.e. motor) signals. Yet, despite its crucial role in the guidance of behaviour, the role of the observer’s interoceptive (visceral) processing in understanding another’s internal states is unexplored. Predicting and keeping track of interoceptive bodily states – which inform intentions and beliefs that guide behaviour – is believed to be one of the fundamental purposes of the human brain. [6],

  1. a b Tsakiris M, Tajadura-Jimenez A & Costantini M (2011).Just a heartbeat away from one’s body: interoceptive sensitivity predicts malleability of body representations. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, Biological Sciences. 278(1717):2470-6.
  2. Critchley, H., Wiens, S., Rotshtein, P., Öhman, A., & Dolan, R. (2004). Neural systems supporting interoceptive awareness. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 189-195. Retrieved May 3, 2016, from
  3. a b c d e Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). Retrieved May 3 2016 from
  4. Dunn BD, Galton HC, Morgan R, et al. (December 2010). "Listening to your heart. How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making". Psychol Sci 21 (12): 1835–44.
  5. Schauder, K. S., Mash, L., Bryant, L., & Cascio, C. (2015). Interoceptive ability and body awareness in autism spectrum disorder., 131, 193-200. Retrieved May 03, 2016, from
  6. Ondobaka, S., Kilner, J., & Friston, K. (2015). The role of interoceptive inference in theory of mind [Abstract]. Elsevier, 1, 1-3. Retrieved May 3, 2016, from