The effects of vibrotactile masking on heartbeat detection: evidence that somatosensory mechanoreceptors transduce heartbeat sensations

Kelley Knapp-Kline, Chris Ring, David Emmerich, Jasper Brener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
143 Downloads (Pure)


The ability to detect heartbeat sensations is the most common basis for inferring individual differences in sensitivity to the interoceptive stimuli generated by the visceral activity. While the sensory sources of heartbeat sensations have yet to be identified, there is a growing consensus that visceral sensation, in general, is supported not only by the interoceptive system but also by the somatosensory system, and even by exteroception. The current experiment sought evidence on this issue by exploring the effects of masking the functions of somatosensory Pacinian and non-Pacinian mechanoreceptors on the ability to detect heartbeat sensations. Twelve verified heartbeat detectors completed a multi-session experiment in which they judged heartbeat-tone and light-tone simultaneity under two vibrotactile masking conditions involving the stimulation of the sternum: (a) using 250 Hz vibrotactile stimuli to mask the Pacinian channel, and (b) using 6 Hz vibrotactile stimuli to mask the non-Pacinian channel. A no-vibration control condition in which no masking stimuli were presented was also implemented. Presentation of both the 250 Hz and the 6 Hz masking stimuli impaired the ability to judge the simultaneity of heartbeats and tones but did not influence the ability to judge the simultaneity of stimuli presented to different exteroceptive modalities (lights and tones). Our findings reinforce the view that the somatosensory system is involved in cardioception and support the conclusion that both Pacinian and non-Pacinian somatosensory mechanoreceptors are implicated in heartbeat detection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13817
Issue number6
Early online date26 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institute of Health grant R01 HL42366 awarded to Jasper Brener. We are grateful for the engineering assistance provided by Glen Hudson, Ralph Molero, and Robert Chorley. Open access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research


  • cardioception
  • heartbeat detection
  • interoception
  • mechanoreceptors
  • somatosensory pathway

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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