Research Article: Predicting the consequences of physical activity: An investigation into the relationship between anxiety sensitivity, interoceptive accuracy and action

Date Published: March 28, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Abby Tabor, Niels Vollaard, Edmund Keogh, Christopher Eccleston, Jane Elizabeth Aspell.


The ability to predict the consequences of our actions is imperative for the everyday success of our interactions. From negotiating an uneven surface, to mounting an immune response, we continually infer the limits of our body. The current investigation considered the impact that the inferred consequences of action has on the placement of limits. We hypothesised that the performance of individuals in a novel, sprint task would reflect both their ability to accurately detect changes in bodily arousal (Interoceptive Accuracy) and the inferred consequences associated with heightened arousal signals (Anxiety Sensitivity). We found that individuals who demonstrated accuracy associated with physiological arousal changes, and who showed a heightened fear of the consequences of arousal symptoms, modified their actions by decreasing their power output (mean Watts•kg-1) in a sprint task (ΔR2 = 0.19; F(1,34) = 19.87); p<0.001). These findings provide a basis for understanding the varying actions taken as we encounter bodily perturbation.

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As we negotiate our environment, we are continually required to disambiguate noisy and uncertain information [1]. The actions of our body, and the continual predictions of the consequences of these actions, help us to make sense of a changing world [2]. We are able to actively filter information and flexibly update our predictions as our body and the environment change [3]. Sensing changes specific to the body is known as interoception, and it is comprised of 3 dimensions: Interoceptive accuracy- objective performance in detection; Interoceptive sensibility- self-evaluated assessment of interoception; Interoceptive awareness- metacognitive appraisal of accuracy [4]. It has been proposed that the ability to precisely detect changes in our body—Interoceptive Accuracy—promotes flexible updating of the predictions of our body and allows for a more fine-tuned regulation of behaviour [5–9].

The data from 38 participants were analysed using PASW Statistics (v24.0.0; IBM Corporation, NY). Firstly, bivariate correlation analyses were performed to determine any confounding effects (S1 Tables). Then a moderation analysis was specifically conducted, with Interoceptive Accuracy (predictor variable), Power Output (dependent variable) and Anxiety Sensitivity (moderator variable), using model 1 of the PROCESS add-on tool for SPSS [41].

The aim of this study was to examine whether Interoceptive Accuracy and Anxiety Sensitivity interact to predict performance in a sprint exercise task. Our primary finding supports our hypothesis, which specified that performance in a sprint-based exercise task is determined by both the ability to accurately detect bodily changes as well as the level of anxiety sensitivity in association with such changes. These results confirm that in a group of inactive individuals, Interoceptive Accuracy alone does not predict the actions taken when participants are exposed to an unfamiliar exercise task. In fact, the impact of Interoceptive Accuracy on performance was moderated by the level of Anxiety Sensitivity expressed by the participant. Specifically, at high levels of Anxiety Sensitivity there was a significant negative relationship between Interoceptive Accuracy and performance. In other words, we found that individuals who demonstrated elevated accuracy in detecting arousal-related changes, specifically related to heart rate, and who showed a heightened fear of the consequences of these arousal symptoms, altered their actions accordingly: decreasing their mean power output in a sprint task.

Our findings highlight that the predicted consequences of action in line with an ability to accurately identify bodily changes should be accounted for when considering the determination of bodily limits. These results provide a first investigation of how limits of performance are negotiated in uncertain situations.




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