Body Image: The Inside Story

Leaving no stone unturned, traveling to the very ends of the earth, to bring you the latest information (Whoa!). Heartbeat and body image – a relationship?

The conclusions of a recent study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest there is. And it goes beyond just heartbeat to how we experience any number of internal body sensations.

Dr. Manos Tsakiris, of Royal Holloway, University of London, suggests the manner in which we perceive and experience the internal goings-on of our body very likely influences how we perceive and experience it from the outside – say, as if we were looking at a mirror.

But which way does the relationship go? Let’s take a look.


This would be a great place to insert a bit of psychobabble. Interoception is the sensing of stimuli arising from within our bodies, especially from the major organs of the trunk. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the best examples of interoception is the ability to time our heartbeat. Pretty sure that’s why Tsakiris and the gang chose to use it in their work.

By the way, here’s a link to an article I wrote on an interesting piece of brain anatomy known as the insular cortex. Poor thing doesn’t get much press.

What may draw your attention is the fact that it’s all about what it feels like to be human, as opposed to just another mammal. And one of those “feels likes” is interoception.

Don’t know about you, but I learned very early-on just how good I was at this interoception business. And I think that’s the case with so many enduring mood and anxiety disorders.

We don’t miss a thing (or opportunity to misinterpret it and panic) – a heart palpitation, that not-so-full breath, a smidge of dizziness, or a knot at the solar plexus. Hey, here’s a link to a piece I wrote on the solar plexus. See what you think.

How the Study Was Conducted

If the research team was going to try to establish a relationship between internal and external perception, they’d better determine how good the subjects were at both.

To handle the internal piece, the subjects were asked to count their heartbeats over a few minutes. Easy enough.

But check-out how the team determined the subject’s external perception of self. A rubber hand (fake, of course) was employed, and the subjects were tricked into believing it was one of theirs. How’d they do that? Apparently, looking at a rubber hand being touched while having one’s real hand touched does the trick. As long as the real hand can’t be seen.

You know, isn’t the mind an amazing thing? And wonder no more why phenomena such as visualization are so powerful.


The study shows for the first time that there may be a strong link between how we experience our body from within and how we perceive it from the outside.

And here’s how the research says it goes down. The less accurate people were in monitoring their heartbeat, the more they were influenced by the illusion. In other words, those not as interoceptive were more apt to have an inaccurate external body image.

The words of Dr. Tsakiris…

“We perceive our own bodies in many different ways. We can look at our bodies, feel touch on our bodies, and also feel our body from within, such as when we experience our hearts racing or butterflies in our stomachs. It seems that a stable perception of the body from the outside, what is known as ‘body image,’ is partly based on our ability to accurately perceive our body from within, such as our heartbeat.”

Well, great – but so what! Right? Well, it is important work because it helps us to begin to understand the workings of the disorders of body perception. And how huge is that for situations such as anorexia or body dysmorphic disorder? I mean, we have to start somewhere don’t we?

And it’s so important to understand why we think, feel, and behave as we do!

So there it is, a bit of something you may not have known. Yes, one more factoid you can keep in your back pocket. I love coming upon such things. And that’s just one of the reasons I’ll travel to the remotest of Pacific islands to bring chipur readers the latest.

All of us would sure like to read your comment. Experiences with anything body-image? Share!

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