Can you count your own heartbeat?

Sit down. Close your eyes. Place your hands beside you.

Now, without touching a pulse point, try and count your own heartbeat.

Can you do it? If you get a friend to take your pulse at the same time and you both count (in your heads!) for a set amount of time, you can compare the results. This simple experiment is a good test of your interoceptive awareness.

Interoception is the ability of an individual to sense ‘internal’ feelings such as pain, itch and hunger. Interoceptive awareness relates to your mind’s perception of your body’s internal state. 

In this experiment, a more accurate result indicates greater interoceptive awareness.

So what's the benefit of this ability?

Well, in an article published in 2013, psychologists Vivien Ainley and Manos Tsakiris of Royal Holloway, University of London found that low interoception is linked with self-objectification and leads to a preoccupation with outward physical appearance. They suggest women with low interoception lack an internal sense of self and this can lead to a false sense of their own body.

Levels of interoceptive awareness are also linked to anxiety and depression.

But interoceptive awareness can also change.

In another article, this time publishing with Caroline Durlik and Gary Brown, Manos Tsakiris found that participants in an experimental condition where they anticipated giving a speech displayed significant increases in interoceptive awareness compared to usual. This enhancement was positively correlated with fear of a negative evaluation.

Interestingly people with higher levels of interoceptive awareness also reacted more strongly to the Rubber Hand Illusion. But that’s another story, and you can read more here.

These experiments were very carefully controlled, so you shouldn't worry if your score was low. We just did it in the office and we were terrible! But if you scored high, you might have just discovered a hidden talent.