What is the sense that provides information about internal sensations?
a) The Vestibular Sense
b) Sense of Proprioception
Interoception is the sensory system that helps us assess internal feelings. And increasingly, it’s being recognized as the 8th sense along with sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, balance and movement in space (vestibular sense) and body position and sensations in the muscles and joints (proprioceptive sense) .
Not surprisingly, being able to accurately perceive your internal state is quite important for regulating it. That is, if you’re hungry, you could eat something. Cold? Add a layer or a blanket.
Just like other sensory systems, the interoceptive system has special receptors located throughout the body. These receptors in our organs, skin, and muscles deliver information through the nervous system to the insular cortex. When the brain integrates these sensory experiences, it can put them together to come up with an emotional assessment. As an example, if you notice your breathing is shallow, your heartbeat is rapid and you have the jitters, you’re likely to conclude that you’re nervous. So this system is tied up with the interpretation of emotions, too.
Once interpreted, the brain organizes systems to respond to the changing internal conditions. That is, motor pathways communicate from the brain to the body to change behavior to effect an improved internal sense. Last, the brain evaluates the interoceptive information, categorizes and connects it with other sensory information and stores the associations in memory. In this way, we learn awareness and strategies to achieve homeostasis.
Having good interoceptive awareness means being able to notice internal sensations and to give meaning to those sensations. This leads to better self-awareness and self regulation. Reduced interoceptive awareness, on the other hand, has negative effects on health, well-being, and homeostasis.
In fact, a healthy interoceptive sense – the ability to sense and regulate internal physiological state – is so important that Dr. Stephen Porges characterizes it as being “at the base of competencies in higher order behavioral, psychological, and social processes.”
Watch this easy-to-understand description of interoception from Mahler Autism.