Sensing your own feelings to better understand others

Interoception—the perception of the body’s internal sensations—can help us understand in a fine-grained way just what it is we’re feeling. A new study puts an interesting twist on this findings: interoception can also can help us to better understand other people’s emotions.

Researchers from Stanford and Cornell reported that people with a more accurate sense of their own bodily sensations were also better able to identify the emotions being experienced by others. They speculate that this has to do with something called “facial mimicry”—that is, the way we all tend to subtly mimic the expressions we see on other people’s faces.  

By “reading off” the emotional expression that our own faces are making, we get a sense of what the other person is feeling. People with greater interoceptive accuracy seem to use the internal cues gleaned from mimicking faces “more efficiently,” the researchers write, granting them greater “empathic ability.”

The authors conclude: “Our results suggest that some people incorporate information from their own bodies with visual inputs in order to more accurately interpret other people’s emotions.”

“In this way, looking inward can enhance a person’s ability to understand the external emotional world.”

Here’s the paper:

“My body, your emotions: Viscerosomatic modulation of facial expression discrimination”

Christina F. Chick, James D. Rounds, Alizé B. Hill, and Adam K. Anderson, in Biological Psychology


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