The heartbeat perception test has been effective at gauging a person’s awareness of his or her own physiological processes, known as inetroceptive awareness. This method was recently used in a study by Vivien Ainley of the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway University in London. Ainley focused her study on self-objectification and interoceptive awareness in women in order to determine if low levels of interoceptive awareness, as measured by the heartbeat perception results, would indicate which women were at risk of self-objectification.
Behaviors such as self-objectification, which involves judging one’s self-worth on appearance, can have significant psychological ramifications. In fact, high levels of self-objectification have been shown to increase the risk of eating problems such as anorexia, and also to increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to the objectification theory, women who engage in self-objectification behaviors tend to have less interoceptive awareness than other women, and this can be evidenced by reduced heartbeat perception.
Ainley tested this theory in her study by assessing 50 female college students for heartbeat perception. These results were then compared to the answers given on three questionnaires relating to body consciousness and self-objectification. Ainley found that the women with low levels of interoceptive awareness as indicated on the heartbeat perception test, indeed had high levels of self-objectification. Taken further, two types of self-objectification emerged: public self-consciousness and public body consciousness.
In this study, public body consciousness, which refers to concern about how one’s body appears in general, was directly linked to higher self-objectification scores. In contrast, the public self-consciousness scores, which reflect concern about how one is perceived by others, did not directly predict self-objectification. Ainley believes that these findings show that women who engage in self-objectification have difficulty developing and maintaining an accurate awareness of their own physiological and emotional condition.
This deficit could lead to distorted responses and increase the risk for negative affect, depression, and other psychological disturbances. She added, “Our findings have implications for those clinical conditions, in women, which are characterized by self-objectification and low interoceptive awareness, such as eating disorders,” Identifying which women are at risk could lead to earlier interventions and illness management.
Ainley, V., Tsakiris, M. (2013). Body Conscious? Interoceptive awareness, measured by heartbeat perception, is negatively correlated with self-objectification. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55568. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055568
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