Monday, December 27, 2010

Listening to your heart

Dunn et al. try to evaluate how sensing feedback from the body influences thought and feeling. Some edited clips of background, and their results:
Some metaphorical expressions that are used daily, such as “brokenhearted” or “gut feelings,” reflect the common belief that feelings and cognitions are partly grounded in bodily responses. This idea is reflected in early philosophical writings about embodiment (e.g., Descartes, 1649/1989) and was introduced to experimental psychology by William James (1884), who asserted that perception of changes in the body “as they occur is the emotion” (pp. 189–190). Since then, there has been considerable debate about the extent to which feelings and cognitions are in fact embodied. Much of this discussion has focused on emotion experience and decision making. Schachter and Singer modified Jamesian theory to argue that emotion experience is a product of the cognitive appraisal of bodily arousal. The somatic marker hypothesis of Damasio proposes that emotional biasing signals emerging from the body influence intuitive decision making. These models remain controversial, and critics argue that bodily responses occur relatively late in the information-processing chain and are therefore best viewed as a consequence, rather than the cause, of cognitive-affective activity.

...A central but untested prediction of many of these proposals is that how well individuals can perceive subtle bodily changes (interoception) determines the strength of the relationship between bodily reactions and cognitive-affective processing. In a first study we demonstrated that the more accurately participants could track their heartbeat, the stronger the observed link between their heart rate reactions and their subjective arousal (but not valence) ratings of emotional images. (In other words, the more strongly these autonomic changes are felt, the more they are associated with arousal experience.) These results offer strong support for Jamesian bodily feedback theories.

In a second study, we found that increasing interoception ability either helped or hindered adaptive intuitive decision making, depending on whether the anticipatory bodily signals generated favored advantageous or disadvantageous choices. These findings identify both the generation and the perception of bodily responses as pivotal sources of variability in emotion experience and intuition, and offer strong supporting evidence for bodily feedback theories, suggesting that cognitive-affective processing does in significant part relate to “following the heart.” Our findings agree with those of other studies showing that an absence of emotion following frontal head injury can in some circumstances lead to superior decision making and with claims that elevated interoceptive awareness may maintain conditions such as anxiety.

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