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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Nov 19;371(1708). pii: 20160007. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0007. Epub 2016 Oct 10.

Active interoceptive inference and the emotional brain.

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Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, School of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QJ, UK
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Institute of Neurology, UCL, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


We review a recent shift in conceptions of interoception and its relationship to hierarchical inference in the brain. The notion of interoceptive inference means that bodily states are regulated by autonomic reflexes that are enslaved by descending predictions from deep generative models of our internal and external milieu. This re-conceptualization illuminates several issues in cognitive and clinical neuroscience with implications for experiences of selfhood and emotion. We first contextualize interoception in terms of active (Bayesian) inference in the brain, highlighting its enactivist (embodied) aspects. We then consider the key role of uncertainty or precision and how this might translate into neuromodulation. We next examine the implications for understanding the functional anatomy of the emotional brain, surveying recent observations on agranular cortex. Finally, we turn to theoretical issues, namely, the role of interoception in shaping a sense of embodied self and feelings. We will draw links between physiological homoeostasis and allostasis, early cybernetic ideas of predictive control and hierarchical generative models in predictive processing. The explanatory scope of interoceptive inference ranges from explanations for autism and depression, through to consciousness. We offer a brief survey of these exciting developments.This article is part of the themed issue 'Interoception beyond homeostasis: affect, cognition and mental health'.


cybernetics; emotion; interoception; neuromodulation; predictive coding; self

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