Visceral Sensory Neuroscience: Interoception

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This is because all that is accessible to that discipline is the response of large, heavily myelinated fibres, usually to electrical stimuli, whereas the interceptive system afferents are small diameter fibres that can usefully be considered as the afferent limb of the autonomic nervous system. I accepted the offer to review this book from my position as one interested in the clinical problems of bladder sensations and a disillusioned clinical neurophysiologist. It was clear to me that, with the emerging clinical potential of functional imaging, some understanding of interoception was essential and therefore undertook the task in hope that I would learn, and indeed I have, a lot.

This topic and ways of studying it give us a new direction in including the importance of perception of homeostatic mechanisms in medicine as well as the shedding light on more philosophical problems like an hypothesis of consciousness. An already expert in these fields might think differently and perhaps be criticising the book because of inadequate coverage of ideas of the most modern theories which have evolved from functional imaging experiments, but to me the book was very valuable in many ways.

The reference list is formidable and the author is clearly a master of the meaning of interoception and the ideas behind its historical development. An early chapter starts with a review of theories of homeostasis, and leads as it did controversially at the time, onto theories of emotion. The counter arguments from Cannon who held that the primary source of the emotions was in the central nervous system are then presented. The roots of the study of interoception came from Russia and Eastern Europe, starting with Pavlov, and it is thus fitting that considerable attention is given to reviewing his work.

We are told that there is also an extensive literature; largely inaccessible now, written by followers of Pavlov and a whole chapter gives some insight into this.

The interoceptive turn

Before conditioning research was done in relative isolation and published only in Russian or Eastern European languages but from s it became better integrated into general psychobiology. Although the contribution of Pavlov is unassailable it is much less clear what contribution was made by his successors: certainly a large number of creatures were sacrificed in conditions that modern animal licence regulations would not permit!

It is probably important that these studies are reviewed if only to ensure there is no need for them to be repeated.

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This is then followed by a review of early studies of operant conditioning of visceral function and the author admits that writing the chapter posed a dilemma. Most informative is a chapter on the neuronal pathways that carry visceral sensory information to higher centres.

Interoception and Mental Health: A Roadmap

It provides a valuable review of combined higher function and anatomical structure and is much focussed on that fifth lobe of the brain, the insular cortex. This section would have been enhanced by more illustrations but whether these were considered to be too elementary by the author or expensive by the publisher is unknown. It is at this point that it would be appropriate to comment on the illustrations throughout the book, which are sadly disappointing. All are black and white line drawings somewhat cheaply reproduced and furthermore the captions are often poor.

Furthermore, every figure has the same rather irritatingly uninformative statement to comply with legalities of copyright. Following the excellent review of the neural basis of visceral perception, specific systems are addressed.

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The cardiovascular and respiratory systems are areas where the author himself has contributed, and the literature relating to cardiac interoception is included in very great detail. However a little more of medical relevance would have been welcome.


More functional imaging work has been carried out so far on the alimentary tract than other systems and here the potential importance of the findings to gastroenterology become apparent. Imagine having to worry about running leukocytes, keeping track, herding them here and there, listening for signals.

What is Interoception? (internal sense)

After the first flush of pride in ownership, it would be exhausting and debilitating and there would be no time for anything else. The volume concludes on a philosophical note with concerns as to consciousness and bodily awareness, an area now of hot debate. Perhaps neurophilosophy will always remain beyond medicine although not psychology and perhaps not psychiatry. The book would be a useful resource for students of psychology and neurobiology in general.

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As a novice in the field of interoception I learnt a great deal from it and would recommend others embarking on the fascinating investigation of brain processing of bodily sensations now possible through functional imaging methods to read it. No customer reviews. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review.

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