Neural systems connecting interoceptive awareness and feelings

Hum Brain Mapp. 2007 Jan;28(1):9-18. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20258.


In many theories of emotions the representations of bodily responses play an important role for subjective feelings. We tested the hypothesis that the perception of bodily states is positively related to the experienced intensity of feelings as well as to the activity of first-order and second-order brain structures involved in the processing of feelings. Using a heartbeat perception task, subjects were separated into groups with either high or poor interoceptive awareness. During emotional picture presentation we measured high-density EEG and used spatiotemporal current density reconstruction to identify regions involved in both interoceptive awareness and emotion processing. We observed a positive relation between interoceptive awareness and the experienced intensity of emotions. Furthermore, the P300 amplitudes to pleasant and unpleasant pictures were enhanced for subjects with high interoceptive awareness. The source reconstruction revealed that interoceptive awareness is related to an enhanced activation in both first-order structures (insula, somatosensory cortices) and second-order structures (anterior cingulate, prefrontal cortices). We conclude that the perception of bodily states is a crucial determinant for the processing and the subjective experience of feelings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electrodes
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Feedback / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / cytology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways
  • Perception / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology