Transient Modulations of Neural Responses to Heartbeats Covary with Bodily Self-Consciousness
Recent research has investigated self-consciousness associated with the multisensory processing of bodily signals (e.g., somatosensory, visual, vestibular signals), a notion referred to as bodily self-consciousness, and these studies have shown that the manipulation of bodily inputs induces changes in bodily self-consciousness such as self-identification. Another line of research has highlighted the importance of signals from the inside of the body (e.g., visceral signals) and proposed that neural representations of internal bodily signals underlie self-consciousness, which to date has been based on philosophical inquiry, clinical case studies, and behavioral studies. Here, we investigated the relationship of bodily self-consciousness with the neural processing of internal bodily signals. By combining electrical neuroimaging, analysis of peripheral physiological signals, and virtual reality technology in humans, we show that transient modulations of neural responses to heartbeats in the posterior cingulate cortex covary with changes in bodily self-consciousness induced by the full-body illusion. Additional analyses excluded that measured basic cardiorespiratory parameters or interoceptive sensitivity traits could account for this finding. These neurophysiological data link experimentally the cortical mapping of the internal body to self-consciousness.