June 13, 2022

When you think of Rhesus macaques, one typically doesn’t feel that it has an innate ability to sense the internal state of its own body, like observing the quickening of its heartbeat. Until recently, scientists would have agreed, too. But a new study conducted by the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis, and Royal Holloway, University of London, is changing the way researchers think.

During this study, a team of researchers monitored four rhesus monkeys for their reaction to a stimulus. As it turns out, all four monkeys spent more time watching the out-of-rhythm stimuli. What does this mean? They have a human-like ability to perceive their heartbeats and have an interoceptive sense.

Interception is critically important to helping your brain identify things happening in your body, like when your breathing quickens or heart races. The brain uses information about how your body is feeling to collect feedback on your current emotions. 

Many people with conditions like ADHD, autism, trauma disorders, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease have been found to have interception difficulties. 

Eliza Bliss-Moreau, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis and core scientist at the CNPRC states, “Our model will be used in future translational studies of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s. If we can measure interoception, we can track it as a behavioral biomarker of disease progression.

The published paper concludes that the next step is to study how interoception may be involved in other psychiatric and neuropsychiatric conditions.

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