Diminished responses to bodily threat and blunted interoception in suicide attempters

Tulsa 1000 Investigators

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Psychological theories of suicide suggest that certain traits may reduce aversion to physical threat and increase the probability of transitioning from suicidal ideation to action. Here, we investigated whether blunted sensitivity to bodily signals is associated with suicidal action by comparing individuals with a history of attempted suicide to a matched psychiatric reference sample without suicide attempts. We examined interoceptive processing across a panel of tasks: breath-hold challenge, cold-pressor challenge, and heartbeat perception during and outside of functional magnetic resonance imaging. Suicide attempters tolerated the breath-hold and cold-pressor challenges for significantly longer and displayed lower heartbeat perception accuracy than non-attempters. These differences were mirrored by reduced activation of the mid/posterior insula during attention to heartbeat sensations. Our findings suggest that suicide attempters exhibit an ‘interoceptive numbing’ characterized by increased tolerance for aversive sensations and decreased awareness of non-aversive sensations. We conclude that blunted interoception may be implicated in suicidal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere51593
StatePublished - Apr 2020

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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