Heartfelt Self: Cardio-Visual Integration Affects Self-Face Recognition and Interoceptive Cortical Processing
The sense of body-ownership relies on the representation of both interoceptive and exteroceptive signals coming from one's body. However, it remains unknown how the integration of bodily signals coming from “outside” and “inside” the body is instantiated in the brain. Here, we used a modified version of the Enfacement Illusion to investigate whether the integration of visual and cardiac information can alter self-face recognition (Experiment 1) and neural responses to heartbeats (Experiment 2). We projected a pulsing shade, that was synchronous or asynchronous with the participant's heartbeat, onto a picture depicting the participant's face morphed with the face of an unfamiliar other. Results revealed that synchronous (vs. asynchronous) cardio-visual stimulation led to increased self-identification with the other's face (Experiment 1), while during stimulation, synchronicity modulated the amplitude of the Heartbeat Evoked Potential, an electrophysiological index of cortical interoceptive processing (Experiment 2). Importantly, the magnitude of the illusion-related effects was dependent on, and increased linearly, with the participants’ Interoceptive Accuracy. These results provide the first direct neural evidence for the integration of interoceptive and exteroceptive signals in bodily self-awareness.