Affective interoceptive inference: Evidence from heart-beat evoked brain potentials.
Gentsch A., Sel A., Marshall AC., Schütz-Bosbach S.
The perception of internal bodily signals (interoception) is central to many theories of emotion and embodied cognition. According to recent theoretical views, the sensory processing of visceral signals such as one's own heartbeat is determined by top-down predictions about the expected interoceptive state of the body (interoceptive inference). In this EEG study we examined neural responses to heartbeats following expected and unexpected emotional stimuli. We used a modified stimulus repetition task in which pairs of facial expressions were presented with repeating or alternating emotional content, and we manipulated the emotional valence and the likelihood of stimulus repetition. We found that affective predictions of external socially relevant information modulated the heartbeat-evoked potential, a marker of cardiac interoception. Crucially, the HEP changes highly relied on the expected emotional content of the facial expression. Thus, expected negative faces led to a decreased HEP amplitude, whereas such an effect was not observed after an expected neutral face. These results suggest that valence-specific affective predictions, and their uniquely associated predicted bodily sensory state, can reduce or amplify cardiac interoceptive responses. In addition, the affective repetition effects were dependent on repetition probability, highlighting the influence of top-down exteroceptive predictions on interoception. Our results are in line with recent models of interoception supporting the idea that predicted bodily states influence sensory processing of salient external information.