Interactions between cardiac activity and conscious somatosensory perception.

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    • Abstract:
      Fluctuations in the heart's activity can modulate the access of external stimuli to consciousness. The link between perceptual awareness and cardiac signals has been investigated mainly in the visual and auditory domain. Here, we investigated whether the phase of the cardiac cycle and the prestimulus heart rate influence conscious somatosensory perception. We also tested how conscious detection of somatosensory stimuli affects the heart rate. Electrocardiograms (ECG) of 33 healthy volunteers were recorded while applying near‐threshold electrical pulses at a fixed intensity to the left index finger. Conscious detection was not uniformly distributed across the cardiac cycle but significantly higher in diastole than in systole. We found no evidence that the heart rate before a stimulus influenced its detection, but hits (correctly detected somatosensory stimuli) led to a more pronounced cardiac deceleration than misses. Our findings demonstrate interactions between cardiac activity and conscious somatosensory perception, which highlights the importance of internal bodily states for sensory processing beyond the auditory and visual domain. It is highly debated to what extent cardiac activity modulates the access of external stimuli to consciousness. The evidence is inconsistent across sensory modalities and previous research focused at specific intervals within the cardiac cycle. Here, we examined the perception of near‐threshold electrical pulses across the entire cardiac cycle. Our results show that conscious somatosensory perception is enhanced during the late phase of the cardiac cycle (at diastole) and associated with a more pronounced cardiac deceleration (as compared to non‐detected stimuli). This strengthens the evidence that the physiological state of the body influences how we perceive the world. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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