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Neural Responses to Heartbeats in the Default Network Encode the Self in Spontaneous Thoughts

Babo-Rebelo, M; Richter, CG; Tallon-Baudry, C; (2016) Neural Responses to Heartbeats in the Default Network Encode the Self in Spontaneous Thoughts. Journal of Neuroscience , 36 (30) pp. 7829-7840. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0262-16.2016. Green open access

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Abstract

The default network (DN) has been consistently associated with self-related cognition, but also to bodily state monitoring and autonomic regulation. We hypothesized that these two seemingly disparate functional roles of the DN are functionally coupled, in line with theories proposing that selfhood is grounded in the neural monitoring of internal organs, such as the heart. We measured with magnetoencephalograhy neural responses evoked by heartbeats while human participants freely mind-wandered. When interrupted by a visual stimulus at random intervals, participants scored the self-relatedness of the interrupted thought. They evaluated their involvement as the first-person perspective subject or agent in the thought (“I”), and on another scale to what degree they were thinking about themselves (“Me”). During the interrupted thought, neural responses to heartbeats in two regions of the DN, the ventral precuneus and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, covaried, respectively, with the “I” and the “Me” dimensions of the self, even at the single-trial level. No covariation between self-relatedness and peripheral autonomic measures (heart rate, heart rate variability, pupil diameter, electrodermal activity, respiration rate, and phase) or alpha power was observed. Our results reveal a direct link between selfhood and neural responses to heartbeats in the DN and thus directly support theories grounding selfhood in the neural monitoring of visceral inputs. More generally, the tight functional coupling between self-related processing and cardiac monitoring observed here implies that, even in the absence of measured changes in peripheral bodily measures, physiological and cognitive functions have to be considered jointly in the DN.

Type: Article
Title: Neural Responses to Heartbeats in the Default Network Encode the Self in Spontaneous Thoughts
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0262-16.2016
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0262-16.2016
Language: English
Additional information: © 2016 Babo-Rebelo et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License Creative CommonsAttribution 4.0 International (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0).
Keywords: default network; heartbeat-evoked responses; MEG; self; spontaneous cognition
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10082544
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