Interoceptive accuracy is an index of the ability to perceive an individual's internal bodily state, including heartbeat and respiration. Individual differences in interoceptive accuracy influence emotional recognition through autonomic nervous activity. However, the precise mechanism by which interoceptive accuracy affects autonomic reactivity remains unclear. Here, we investigated how cardiac reactivity induced by a non-affective external rhythm differed among individuals, using a heartbeat counting task. Because individuals with poor interoceptive accuracy cannot distinguish an external rhythm from their cardiac cycles, it has been hypothesized that the interoceptive effect on heart rate works differently in individuals with good interoceptive accuracy and those with poor interoceptive accuracy. Study participants observed a visual or auditory stimulus presented at a rhythm similar to the participants' resting heart rates. The stimulus rhythm was gradually changed from that of their resting heart rate, and we recorded electrocardiographs while participants were exposed to the stimuli. Individuals with good interoceptive accuracy exhibited a deceleration in heart rate when the rhythm of the auditory stimulus changed. In contrast, in the group with poor interoceptive accuracy, the heart rate decreased only when the stimulus became faster. They were unable to distinguish the rhythm of their own heartbeat from that of the external rhythm; therefore, we propose that such individuals recognize the stimuli at the pace of their heart rate. Individuals with good interoceptive accuracy were able to distinguish their heart rates from the external rhythm. A modality difference was not observed in this study, which suggests that both visual and auditory stimuli help mimic heart rate. These results may provide physiological evidence that autonomic reactivity influences the perception of the internal bodily state, and that interoception and the autonomic state interact to some degree.
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