Bruno A. Cayoun1, Alice G. Shires2,3
1MiCBT Institute, Hobart, TAS, Australia
2Mindfulness Integrated Therapies and Research Clinic, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia
3School of Psychology, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Interoception, the ability to feel the body’s internal sensations, is an essential aspect of emotional experience. There is mounting evidence that interoception is impaired in common mental health disorders and that poor interoceptive awareness is a major contributor to emotional reactivity, calling for clinical interventions to address this deficit. The manuscript presents a comprehensive theoretical review, drawing on multidisciplinary findings to propose a metatheory of reinforcement mechanisms applicable across a wide range of disorders. We present a reconsideration of operant conditioning through the co-emergence model of reinforcement, which is a neurophenomenological account of the interaction between cognition and interoception, and its consequences on behavior. The model suggests that during memory processing, the retrieval of autobiographical memory (including maladaptive cognition) is dependent upon its co-emerging interoceptive cues occurring at the encoding, consolidation and reconsolidation stages. Accordingly, “interoceptive reinforcement” during emotional distress is a common factor to all emotional disorders and a major cause for relapse. We propose that interoceptive desensitization has transdiagnostic benefits, readily achievable through the cultivation of equanimity during mindfulness training and can be integrated in cognitive and behavioral interventions to permit a transdiagnostic applicability. We summarize the contributions of this approach into 10 specific and testable propositions.
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Frontiers in Psychology, 22 December 2020