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Interoception in emotional experience

Wiens, Stefan

doi: 10.1097/01.wco.0000168079.92106.99

Purpose of review Many theories of emotion have postulated a close relationship of the feedback of physiological changes and their perception with emotional experience. This paper reviews recent advances in theory and brain-imaging research on this topic of interoception and describes a hypothetical model of the potential mechanisms.

Recent findings Research from patients with spinal-cord injuries and pure autonomic failure suggests that emotion-related peripheral autonomic changes are not necessary for emotional experience. However, in support of a role for centrally integrated feedback from the whole body, imaging studies found that activations in areas commonly associated with interoception and emotion (anterior insula and anterior cingulate) were correlated with individual differences in interoception (heartbeat detection) and trait measures of emotion. Because recent theory distinguishes between two levels of emotional experience (phenomenology and awareness), this paper proposes a hypothetical model of the effects of interoception on phenomenology and awareness. This model classifies interoception into the central representation of feedback from the whole body, the perception of actual physiological changes as well as the perception of illusory changes.

Summary Consistent with recent theories of emotion, evidence from brain imaging supports the notion that centrally integrated feedback from the whole body plays a role in emotional experience. Because research on neural correlates of emotional experience is at an early stage, the hypothesized model of potential causal links between interoception and emotional experience might serve as a helpful guide to future research.

Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, and Psychology Section, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Correspondence to Stefan Wiens, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Frescati Hagvägen 14, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden Tel: +46 8 163933; fax: +46 8 159342; e-mail:,

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.