The practice of meditation is not associated with improved interoceptive awareness of the heartbeat

Psychophysiology. 2020 Feb;57(2):e13479. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13479. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


Meditation is commonly assumed to be associated with enhanced interoceptive accuracy. We previously found that experienced meditators did not exhibit a greater ability than nonmeditators to detect heartbeat sensations at rest, despite the meditators' reported subjective ratings of higher accuracy and lower difficulty. Here, attempting to overcome previous methodological limitations, we assessed interoceptive awareness of heartbeat and breathing sensations across physiological arousal levels using infusions of isoproterenol, a beta-adrenergic agonist similar to adrenaline. We hypothesized that meditators would display greater interoceptive awareness than nonmeditators, as evidenced by higher interoceptive detection rates, increased interoceptive accuracy, and differences in localization of heartbeat sensations. We studied 15 meditators and 15 nonmeditators, individually matched on age, gender, and body mass index, using randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled bolus infusions of isoproterenol. Participants reported their experience of heartbeat and breathing sensations using a dial during infusions and the location of heartbeat sensations on a two-dimensional manikin afterward. There was no evidence of higher detection rates or increased accuracy across any dose, although meditators showed a tendency to report cardiorespiratory sensation changes sooner at higher doses. Relative to nonmeditators, meditators exhibited prominent geographical differences in heartbeat localization, disproportionally reporting sensations throughout central regions of the chest, abdomen, neck, back, and head. To further assess indications of potential differences in cardiac interoceptive accuracy between meditators and nonmeditators, we conducted a meta-analysis including 724 participants and found little evidence for such differences. We conclude that the practice of meditation is not associated with improved cardiac interoceptive awareness.

Keywords: heartbeat detection; interoception; meditation; mindfulness; respiration.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interoception / physiology*
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness*
  • Respiration*