Body Awareness, Brain and Sports - Brain Basis of Interoceptive awareness in non-athletes and competitive athletes – link with personality traits and emotion regulation skills (Interoception)

Interoceptive awareness is the conscious awareness of internal physiological states (Craig, 2002). Sensations from the body are intimately involved in different human behaviours, and they are especially important in emotional reactions and interpretations. In non-emotional everyday context these bodily sensations may not get conscious attention. Interestingly, there seem to be individual differences in how accurately the internal bodily signals are detected. As emotion regulation is a key challenge in many psychiatric illnesses, some intervention methods include ‘exercises’ for increasing body awareness, with the aim of influencing also emotion regulation skills (mindfulness based stress reduction, MBSR and mindfulness based cognitive therapy, MBCT). However, increased awareness on bodily signals may also cause a risk factor for psychiatric disorders.

Some brain areas, such as anterior cingulate cortex, insula, thalamus and brain stem have been shown to be central in mediating the signals from visceral sensations and combining emotional and interoceptive processes. It is likely that genetically driven factors (modified by environment) are underlying the differences in interoceptive sensitivity, possibly reflected in tempereament and personality styles. Indeed, interoception may represent a key factor in reflecting the genetically driven tendencies in linking the body and mind in emotional situations. This link is important for both psychological well-being, treatment of psychiatric conditions and also preventive health-care. Interoception can also be a useful element in promoting behaviors where it is important to get immediate feedback from the body to the mind, and get this connection in maximal control. Indeed, interoceptive awareness is important for athletes who are seeking optimal performance, as it connects the distress of inner states to the goal of achieving and maintaining a homeostatic process (Philippe & Seiler, 2005).

In this study we clarify whether people differ in interoceptive sensitivity, and how factors like physical fitness/training, temperament and personality styles as well as emotion regulation tendencies are linked with interoception. We further elucidate the neural substrates underlying interoception, and the possible differences between individuals varying in the above factors. We collect data using various questionnaires, MEG, autonomic nervous system measures and a special heart-beat detection task developed for the project.


Project team

  • Tiina Parviainen
  • Montse Ruiz
  • Aki Ikonen
  • Hanna-Maija Lapinkero
  • Ismael Pedraza Ramifez
  • Jenni Puustinen
  • Noora Kouvo
  • Priska Pennanen
  • Janita Taipalus
  • Taija Mäkinen
  • Karoliina Arvonen
  • Janne Rajaniemi
  • Henry King