Background: Perception of changes in physiological arousal is theorized to form the basis for which the brain labels emotional states. Interoception is a process by which individuals become aware of physiological sensations. Lowered emotional awareness has been found to be associated with lower interoceptive awareness. Alexithymia is a personality trait associated with lowered emotion recognition ability which affects 10-20% of the university student population in Western countries. Research suggests that being made aware of one’s heartbeat may enhance emotional awareness. Objective(s): The present study attempted to enhance emotion recognition abilities directly via an experimental interoceptive manipulation in order to decrease levels of alexithymia. It had three aims: 1) To examine whether exposing individuals to the interoceptive sound of their own heart beat could illicit changes in their emotion recognition abilities,2) To examine whether higher emotion recognition abilities as a result of listening to one’s own heartbeat differed by alexithymia group, and 3) if higher interoceptive awareness was associated with higher RME scores during the own heartbeat sound condition. Methods: 36 participants were recruited from an introductory psychology class at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Participants completed lab-based tests of emotion recognition followed by questionnaires assessing alexithymia and interoceptive abilities. During the lab-based test of emotion recognition, participants were subjected to an interoceptive manipulation by listening to three sounds (in random order): own heartbeat, another person’s heartbeat, and footsteps. To test aim 1, a repeated-measures ANOVA examined differences in emotion recognition scores during the various sound conditions (i.e., no sound, own heartbeat, other heartbeat, footsteps). For evaluating aim 2, a two way 3 x 4 RM ANOVA tested for differences in RME scores by sound condition when individuals were alexithymic, possibly alexithymic and not alexithymic. Aim 3 was examined using correlations between the attention to body and emotion awareness subscale scores separately with RME score for own heartbeat. Results: Contrary to predictions, RME performance did not vary according to body sound condition, F (3, 105) =.53, p = .67, η² = .02. A significant interaction was seen between alexithymia category and RME scores during the interoceptive sound conditions, F (6, 99) = 2.27, p = .04, η ² = .12. However, post-hoc analyses did not reveal significant differences between specific alexithymia categories and RME scores. A significant positive relationship was seen between RME during own heartbeat and being able to pay attention to the body (r (36) = .34, p = .05, R² = .11). Discussion: Our results suggest that more attention was directed toward facial emotions when subjects listened to their own heartbeat but this increase did not result in measurable changes in RME performance. Limitations: Although using a within-subjects design potentially increased statistical power, a between-subjects design with random assignment could have eliminated the effects of repeated measurement and condition order. Implications: The most novel of these findings was that individuals paid more attention to the emotional stimuli when hearing their own heartbeat. More research is needed to understand if the interoceptive sound manipulation may aide in improving other cognitive functions or earlier steps in the emotion process. Future research using other measures of interoception and attention are necessary to confirm the result.
|School:||University of the Sciences in Philadelphia|
|School Location:||United States -- Pennsylvania|
|Source:||MAI 56/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Psychology, Experimental psychology, Physiological psychology|
|Keywords:||Emotion, Emotion recognition, Heartbeat feedback, Interoceptim, Theory of mind|
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