Differentiating attention styles and regulatory aspects of self-reported interoceptive sensibility

Publication University of California, San Francisco

Mehling W.

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Nov 19;371(1708)


Based on prior research, multiple discriminable dimensions of interoception have been defined: awareness, accuracy and sensibility. Some investigators defined interoceptive awareness as metacognitive awareness of interoceptive accuracy, assessed as correspondence between subjective confidence in and objective accuracy of one’s heartbeat detection. However, metacognitive awareness has been understood quite differently: ‘a cognitive set in which negative thoughts/feelings are experienced as mental events, rather than as the self’ or as ‘error awareness’. Interoceptive sensibility, defined as self-reported interoception, distinguishes self-reported interoception from objective interoceptive accuracy, but does not differentiate between anxiety-driven and mindful attention styles towards interoceptive cues, a distinction of key clinical importance: one attention style is associated with somatization and anxiety disorders; the other has been viewed as healthy, adaptive, resilience-enhancing. The self-report Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness was developed to differentiate these attention styles. It has been translated into 16 languages and applied in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Findings from these applications suggest that differentiating interoceptive sensibility according to attention style and regulatory aspects (i) provides insights into the psychology of interoceptive awareness, (ii) differentiates between clinically maladaptive and beneficial interoceptive attention, and (iii) helps elucidate therapeutic approaches that claim to provide health benefits by training mindful styles of bodily awareness.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Interoception beyond homeostasis: affect, cognition and mental health’.