Continuing a bit further with my presentation from earlier this week centered around a potential biological factor of eating disorders and body image issues I thought I would continue this discussion. After reading Carrie Arnold’s essay Inside the Wrong Body I have been very curious about the concept of interoception. Essentially, interoception is self-awarness. One’s interoceptive skills dictate how in tune a person might be with their emotions, pain, body temperature, hunger, thirst and other internal aspects of self. Arnold’s essay and related research takes this concept one step farther and proposes that maybe this sense, interoception, is also responsible for body image and as a result the diagnosis of eating disorders in individuals. Interoception is said to be managed in the insula, a part of the brain which is tucked inside t fold of the brains tissue back near the ears.
I have been wondering a lot about the plasticity of ones interoception and whether or not this sense can be trained effectively. Arnold’s essay proposed that seeing as interoception, and activity in the insula might be correlated with the appearance of eating disorders and distorted body image, mindfulness exercises including meditation and yoga might be a beneficial treatment option. Studies have shown that these exercises have helped to decrease negative body image . I am wondering just how much this sense can change. I’m also wondering if certain brains are more likely to respond to interoception exercises than others? Often people saying that they are having an “ugly day” or just don’t feel like they look good that day or even that they don’t feel like themselves on a certain day…is this possibly the interoception center taking a brief break??
This also got me wondering about my own interoceptive skills. Luckily, Arnold included a handy interoception self test in the body of her essay. I will outline the self test below so that you too can become more aware of your self-awareness!
- Sit in a chair in a quiet location with your hands at your sides and both feet on the ground. Set a timer to 1 minute and with your eyes opened or closed (whichever you prefer) attempt to count the number of times your heart beats in that minute. DO NOT hold the pulse on your wrist or neck. Record the number of heartbeats.
- Next take your pulse for a minute the usual way by placing your left/right pointer and middle fingers on the underside of the opposite wrist. You can also take your pulse by placing your right/left just under the back of your jaw where the jaw meets the neck (on the same side–right or left). Record.
- Wait 2 minutes.
- Take your pulse the usual way again, and average the two results attained when taking your pulse the usual way.
- Complete the following calculation:
1-((Average heart rate-estimated heart rate)/average heart rate) = _______
How to interpret your results:
A result of .80 or higher indicates that your interoceptive ability is very good.
A result of .60-.79 reflects a moderately good sense of self.
A result of below .59 indicates poor interoception.
As with anything, these result should be taken lightly as this is a very informal test of interoceptive skills and may not reflect your sense of self in actuality! I’m not entirely sure how accurate this test was at informing me of my own interoceptive skills, but it was still interesting!
Arnold, C. (2012). Inside the Wrong Body. Scientific American Mind. 23, 36 – 41.