Interactions between cardiac activity and conscious somatosensory perception
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. We here investigated whether the phase of the cardiac cycle and the pre-stimulus 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.
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