Heart–brain interactions shape somatosensory perception and evoked potentials

Our brain continuously receives signals from the body and the environment. Although we are mostly unaware of internal bodily processes, such as our heartbeats, they can affect our perception. Here, we show two distinct ways in which the heartbeat modulates conscious perception.

First, increased heartbeat-evoked neural activity before stimulation is followed by decreased somatosensory detection. This effect can be explained by subjects adopting a more conservative decision criterion, which is accompanied by changes in early and late somatosensory-evoked responses.

Second, stimulus timing during the cardiac cycle affects sensitivity but not criterion for somatosensory stimuli, which is reflected only in late somatosensory-evoked responses. We propose that these heartbeat-related modulations are connected to fluctuations of interoceptive attention and (unconscious) predictive coding mechanisms

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