Mind your heart to bear the weight: Cardiac interoception predict action-related visual perception when wearing a heavy backpack


Visual perception can be modulated by the physiological potential for action. For instance, it was famously shown that a geographical slant appears steeper when wearing a heavy backpack than not wearing any. However, those results are not always replicated. In the present exploratory study, we test the hypothesis the backpack weight’s effect on perception relies on the ability of the cognitive system to integrate the physiological constraint’s change rather than the change itself. Young adults (n = 54) wore an electrocardiogram monitor and completed a computerized task in which photographs of real geographical slants were displayed on a screen while wearing a heavy vs. light backpack. The activity of the vagus nerve, as an index of physiological adaptability, was recorded as a proxy of the physiological state during the task. The participants also completed an interoception task assessing one’s ability to detect his/her own heartbeat as the index of integration ability of the cognitive system. While Bayesian analyses revealed no difference in angle estimation between carrying a heavy vs. light backpack, the results indicated that interoception predicted less accurate angle estimation only when wearing a heavy backpack. In contrast, there was anecdotal evidence that vagal activity changes predicted visual perception. Interoception might thus play a crucial role in the interplay between the physiological potential for action and action-related visual perception.

Quaterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76, 2232-2240.