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Reduction of auditory input improves performance on the heartbeat tracking task, but does not necessarily enhance interoception

Abstract

Previous research utilising a between-subjects design has indicated that the use of noise-dampening ear protectors might enhance interoceptive accuracy (IAcc). In the present study, we further examined this effect using a repeated-measures, within-participants design, and investigated potential mechanisms that might explain the effect. 50 participants completed the heartbeat tracking task (HTT) with and without the use of industrial ear protectors, in a counter-balanced order. Participants were asked to count the number of heartbeats occurring in five discrete time intervals of 25, 35, 45, 55 and 95 s, without feeling for a manual pulse. HTT scores were significantly higher when ear protectors were worn, and the improvement in performance was greatest for participants with lower baseline IAcc. The ear protectors were associated with significantly increased self-reported heartbeat audibility, task-related confidence and concentration, and decreased levels of distractibility. Heartbeat audibility was also correlated with HTT performance when the ear protectors were worn. Because the use of industrial ear defenders resulted in increased heartbeat audibility, this manipulation should not be used to assess causal hypotheses related to changes in IAcc. However, it may serve as a simple, non-invasive manipulation to assess the effects of ‘externalised’ interoceptive signals.

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  1. As some previous HTT research has been conducted with participants who have BMI values between 18.5 and 25, we also completed a series of analyses using a subset of participants from the present study who were within this BMI category. We can confirm that the results from these analyses did not differ from the results presented in the current manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Todd.

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Communicated by Francesco Lacquaniti.

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Todd, J., Hina, F. & Aspell, J.E. Reduction of auditory input improves performance on the heartbeat tracking task, but does not necessarily enhance interoception. Exp Brain Res 238, 621–629 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-020-05740-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-020-05740-y