The impact of interoceptive abilities on emotional intensity and susceptibility to distraction

Barker, Melissa Esme (2018) The impact of interoceptive abilities on emotional intensity and susceptibility to distraction. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Interoception, defined as the ability to sense change in visceral organs and internal states within the body, is thought to influence a wide range of psychological processes and behaviours. Evidence garnered from previous research suggests that individual differences in interoceptive ability influences emotional experience and cognitive processes such as memory, particularly when stimuli are emotional in nature. The present study aimed to extend these propositions by examining interoceptive abilities in relation to emotional intensity (defined as the strength of a response to emotional stimuli) and attention to auditory emotional stimuli. It was expected that interoceptive ability would be positively related to emotional intensity and vulnerability to distraction from emotional words during a serial recall task. This study also aimed to explore the reliability and validity of the most common task used to measure interoception (heartbeat tracking task; HTT), given that it has been criticised for its lack of test-retest reliability and the potential for participants to guess. Contrary to expectations, Experiment 1 (n = 70) found no relationship between interoceptive abilities and self-reported emotional intensity, and Experiment 2 (n = 32) found no effect of interoceptive abilities on distractibility. Furthermore, individuals who performed well on the HTT exhibited high variation during a temporal consistency task, suggesting that these individuals may have been guessing. Finally, the HTT was found to have low test-retest reliability. Together, both experiments failed to provide evidence to suggest a relationship between interoception and emotional intensity or susceptibility to emotional distractors. However, it is possible that this is reflective of methodological problems, rather than the absence of a relationship. Given the low test-retest reliability of the HTT, as well as evidence suggesting the task is vulnerable to guessing, future research examining interoceptive differences would benefit from the use of more robust and reliable methods.

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