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Conscious somatosensory perception varies across the cardiac cycle

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Grund,  Martin
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Forschack,  Norman
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Villringer,  Arno
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Gaebler,  Michael
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Motyka, P., Grund, M., Forschack, N., Villringer, A., & Gaebler, M. (2017). Conscious somatosensory perception varies across the cardiac cycle. Poster presented at 21st Annual Meeting of the Association for Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC 21), Beijing, China.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-9B2C-7
Abstract
Interoceptive signals can modulate the access of external stimuli to perceptual consciousness. For example, visually masked fearful faces are more likely to be detected when presented during cardiac systole compared to diastole (Garfinkel et al., 2014). However, the effects of heart signals on perceptual sensitivity in other sensory modalities remain a matter of debate. The goal of this study was to investigate the relationship between cardiac phase and perceptual sensitivity for near-threshold somatosensory stimuli. We recorded electrocardiograms (ECG) of 33 participants (17 females; 26± 4 years) while electrical pulses at a fixed intensity were applied to their left index finger. Participants had to report if they perceived the stimulus or not. To cover the entire cardiac cycle, stimulation onset was pseudo-randomized within a 1800-ms time window. For each stimulus, we computed its relative position in the cardiac cycle (delimited by two consecutive R peaks), ranging from 0 to 360 degrees. Additionally, we assessed participants’ interoceptive accuracy with a heartbeat counting task (Schandry, 1981). The results show that the detection of near-threshold stimuli is not uniformly distributed across the cardiac cycle: stimuli presented towards the end of the cardiac cycle (at diastole) were more likely to be detected (Rayleigh Z = .35, p = .015), whereas stimuli presented towards the end of the first third of the cardiac cycle (at systole) show a tendency to be missed (Rayleigh Z = .27, p = .080). Our findings are in line with reports that neurophysiological responses to pain stimuli vary across the cardiac cycle (Gray et al., 2010; Edwards et al., 2001). Physiologically, central processes that involve baroreceptor signals may play a role (Garfinkel et al., 2014), but also local phenomena at the finger may be implicated (e.g., arrival of the pulse wave). We show that conscious somatosensory perception varies across the cardiac cycle and further investigate whether this effect is associated with inter-individual differences in interoceptive accuracy, heart rate, or heart rate variability.