Last week, the Psychology Society was incredibly fortunate to host Professor Sarah Garfinkel from Sussex University. Professor Garfinkel is a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry, with her research centring on brain-body interactions. Her work investigates how the brain and heart are in dynamic communication, particularly highlighting how individual changes in interoception (the perception of our internal bodily conditions) can influence our emotions and behaviours.
Her talk outlined the mind, emotions, body, and their unmistakable connections. The mind, or the state of our brain, is described by our physical and emotional reactions: what we experience characterises how we feel, and this connection between body and mind helps us show our emotions not only in our external appearance but also internally, such as changes in blood pressure or body temperature. This is known as interoception. One of the most distinct phenomena about interoception is that it provides someone with the capacity to empathise, and so physiologically adopt the emotion of others through discerning bodily appearance and changes, with the magnitude of sadness being distinguished through contracted pupils. We learnt that there is this emotion contagion during films, where directors linger on particular facial expressions to allow the viewer to feel the emotion shown, so the effect on the viewer is more powerful. Therefore, interoception is regarded as the process of sensing, interpreting and integrating signals originating from within the body, which may have stemmed from our external environment.
This fascinating talk showed that the way we experience the world was not just external but strongly affected by the connection our brain has to our internal conditions; understanding this can help us better understand the human experience. We would really like to thank Professor Garfinkel for coming and sharing her research on the way we experience not only the world, but ourselves