You know when your own heart races—whether from a tarantula on your lap or a text message from a crush. And according to a new study, monkeys do, too. For the first time, scientists have found evidence of a nonhuman animal sensing its own heartbeat—a result that might help scientists study human emotions on a cellular level.
The ability to sense our inner worlds—everything from a pounding heart to a full bladder—is known as interoception. Just as touch, taste, and smell help us encode sensory information about the outside world, our interoceptive senses alert us to what’s going on inside our bodies. Interoception “seems to ground everything” in the human experience, from cognition to consciousness, says Eliza Bliss-Moreau, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the California National Primate Research Center who led the study. “It allows us to navigate the world effectively.”
In recent decades, scientists have linked interoceptive sensitivity to emotional awareness and a variety of mental health conditions. People who are no good at heart rate detection, for example, are more likely to than their peers to experience major depressive disorder. By studying the physiology of interoception, scientists hope to eventually learn more about how different psychiatric disorders emerge and develop.
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