Interoceptive Ingredients of Body Ownership: Affective Touch and Cardiac Awareness in the Rubber Hand Illusion
The sense of body ownership represents a fundamental aspect of bodily self-consciousness. Using multisensory integration paradigms, recent studies have shown that both exteroceptive and interoceptive information contribute to our sense of body ownership. Interoception refers to the physiological sense of the condition of the body, including afferent signals that originate inside the body and outside the body. However, it remains unclear whether individual sensitivity to interoceptive modalities is unitary or differs between modalities. It is also unclear whether the effect of interoceptive information on body ownership is caused by exteroceptive ‘visual capture’ of these modalities, or by bottom-up processing of interoceptive information. This study aimed to test these questions in two separate samples. In the first experiment (N = 76), we examined the relationship between two different interoceptive modalities, namely cardiac awareness based on a heartbeat counting task, and affective touch perception based on stimulation of a specialized C tactile (CT) afferent system. This is an interoceptive modality of affective and social significance. In a second experiment (N = 63), we explored whether ‘off-line’ trait interoceptive sensitivity based on a heartbeat counting task would modulate the extent to which CT affective touch influences the multisensory process during the rubber hand illusion (RHI). We found that affective touch enhanced the subjective experience of body ownership during the RHI. Nevertheless, interoceptive sensitivity, as measured by a heartbeat counting task, did not modulate this effect, nor did it relate to the perception of ownership or of CT-optimal affective touch more generally. By contrast, this trait measure of interoceptive sensitivity appeared most relevant when the multisensory context of interoception was ambiguous, suggesting that the perception of interoceptive signals and their effects on body ownership may depend on individual abilities to regulate the balance of interoception and exteroception in given contexts.