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Interoception and the 8th Sensory System

Interoception and the 8th Sensory System

Today, scientific research has taught people more about the brain and how it processes sensory information. However, there is still quite a bit of confusion regarding the sensory systems and how each component works together to help a person achieve their full potential for growth and learning. Interoception is the last out of the eight sensory systems, but it plays a huge role in how you respond to changes within your body and the environment. 

What Are the Eight Senses? 
Most people are already familiar with the basic five senses that influence how you see, hear, taste, feel and smell. However, there are also three other sensory systems that influence how you respond to the world around you, and these are the vestibular, proprioception and interception systems. These systems affect everything from your breathing patterns to your ability to feel comfortable throughout the day. For instance, the vestibular system influences your ability to balance and track an object with your eyes, and the interoception system lets you know if you are cold or hungry. 

How Does Interoception Help with Brain Processing? 
Interoception is often confused with proprioception. However, these two differ significantly regarding the science behind how the brain processes the sensory feedback provided from the body. Proprioception simply involves how your brain senses your body’s placement in the environment, and it affects how you walk, run and move around throughout the day. Interoception provides similar feedback regarding your body’s status, except that the feedback is received from sensors that are located in your organs, skin and deeper layers of muscle tissue. These interoceptors tell your body when you have needs such as hunger, thirst or discomfort that derives from your environment. 

What Role Does Interoception Play in a Person’s Behavior? 
While this sensory system works fine most of the time, there are times when a person’s brain cannot process the feedback from the interoceptive system. When this happens, a person may 
exhibit unusual symptoms or behavior such as failing to recognize when they are hungry. A person whose brain is overly sensitive to the sensory feedback may also alter their behavior patterns. For instance, a child may scream as though they are in intense agony when they experience an itch or irritation from their clothing. Alternatively, someone else may be unable to concentrate on a task if they are distracted by what feels like overwhelming hunger pangs.


Although it is not possible to alter the brain patterns that lead to the behavior, it is possible to reduce negative responses to the sensations by using strategies that address problems with interoceptive hypersensitivity. For example, the application of deep pressure to the skin can provide sensory feedback that makes a person less aware of other sensations such as itching or minor pain. 

Understanding the science behind how interoception affects behavior allows you to make simple changes to correct any issues that arise in how your brain processes new sensory information. Whether you or your child experiences sensory dysregulation that stems from hypersensitivity or under-sensitivity to the sensations, awareness of the interoception system helps you to make a plan that encourages behavior regulation.






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