Ever wondered why you feel butterflies in the stomach or feel your heart is “thumping” and not “beating” before any major event. The latest study published in eLife could well explain the evolution of this phenomenon.
According to the study, our ability to strongly feel emotions, decision-making and mental health is determined quite early on life, in fact when we are babies. Surprising, isn’t it? The researchers wanted to test how aware babies are of their bodies’ internal signals,scientifically termed interoception. To elaborate, consciously sensing internal signals in the body is called interoception,1interoception:https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/sensory-processing-issues/interoception-and-sensory-processing-issues-what-you-need-to-know and some people are found to be more interoceptive than others, which explains as to why some people strongly feel emotions, or better still differing mental health states in individuals.
The researchers created a new test called iBEATS using which they could measure this ability for the first time in babies as young as five months. The test babies were found to detect their own heart beat. The infants in the study were exposed to animated characters and it was found that they could well discriminate between an animated character moving in synchrony or out of synchrony of their own heartbeat. The babies preferred to watch the character that was moving out of synchrony, suggesting that even at this early age, infants are sensitive to their own interoceptive signals.
Research on interoception in infants is still in the nascent stage and this is the first time an attempt was made. The researchers measured whether infants could discriminate between an animated character moving in synchrony or out of synchrony with their own heartbeat. Infants preferred to watch the character that was moving out of synchrony, suggesting that even at this early age, infants are sensitive to their own interoceptive signals.
Some babies were found to be more sensitive than others. Upon measuring brain activity, the researchers found that the infants who had shown a strong preference in the iBEATS task also showed a larger brain signal known as the Heart-Evoked Potential (or HEP) that reflects how our brains process signals from the heart. Negative emotions including fear and anger only further strengthened the signal. This suggests that the way babies experience emotions might be closely linked to their bodies’ responses. This test has future implications in tracking emotional and mental health development in individuals.
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- Lara Maister, Teresa Tang, Manos Tsakiris. Neurobehavioral evidence of interoceptive sensitivity in early infancy. eLife, 2017; 6 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.25318
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