Heart Beat Perception and Emotional Experience


  • The assistance of Esdras Vasconcellos is gratefully acknowledged.

Address requests for reprints to: Dr. Rainer Schandry, Institut für Psychologie, Universität München, Kaulbachstrße 93, D-8000 München 40, Federal Republic of Germany.


The main assumption of the present study is that emotional experience is coupled to perception of bodily processes. From this it is deduced that individuals who show good perception of heart activity tend to exhibit higher levels of a momentarily experienced emotion (in this case anxiety) and to score higher on the personality trait “Emotional Lability.” The aspect of cardiac awareness considered here is perception of heart beats. Subjects were instructed to count heart beats (only by concentrating on their body but not by taking their pulse) during a signalled time interval and the reported number of beats was then compared to the actual number of beats as extracted from the EKG. Additionally, skin conductance and respiration were recorded. During the experimental task (i.e., counting heart beats) increases in heart rate, respiration rate and number of spontaneous fluctuations in skin conductance were recorded. Groups of good and poor perceivers were formed on the basis of accuracy on the perception task. The two groups did not differ in heart rate; however, in State Anxiety and Emotional Lability, the group of good perceivers had significantly higher scores. The importance of visceroception for emotional experience is pointed out and the relevance for clinical psychology is discussed.