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Psychophysiology. 2013 Jun;50(6):505-12. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12039. Epub 2013 Mar 22.

What the heart forgets: Cardiac timing influences memory for words and is modulated by metacognition and interoceptive sensitivity.

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Department of Psychiatry, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, Falmer, UK.


Mental functions are influenced by states of physiological arousal. Afferent neural activity from arterial baroreceptors at systole conveys the strength and timing of individual heartbeats to the brain. We presented words under limited attentional resources time-locked to different phases of the cardiac cycle, to test a hypothesis that natural baroreceptor stimulation influences detection and subsequent memory of words. We show memory for words presented around systole was decreased relative to words at diastole. The deleterious memory effect of systole was greater for words detected with low confidence and amplified in individuals with low interoceptive sensitivity, as indexed using a heartbeat counting task. Our observations highlight an important cardiovascular channel through which autonomic arousal impacts a cognitive function, an effect mitigated by metacognition (perceptual confidence) and interoceptive sensitivity.

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