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How attention-related body sensations (tingling, numbness, warmth) correlate with physiological and psychological processes


A Hungarian study has proposed that most body sensations driven by attention are correlated to psychological cues rather than peripheral changes. Thus, sensations such as numbness, pulse, tingling, and warmth can be actively affected by one’s thoughts, such as the cognitive states adopted during meditation and mindfulness.

Conducted by researchers from ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, the study was published in Physiology International last year.

  • Body sensations are often used in subjective evaluations of physical health. Among other things, they guide health professionals in diagnosing a patient’s state of illness or recovery.
  • These sensations are influenced by peripheral somatic and external processes. They are also affected by mental processes such as attention, emotion, and motor control. Body sensations have been triggered by focusing on a particular body part.
  • No previous study has determined if the sensations are connected with actual peripheral changes or result from top-down processing. The researchers therefore sought to find out if attention-driven body sensations originated from autonomic and somatomotor physiological processes, or if those sensations were rooted in psychological traits.
  • According to the study, most attention-related body sensations were not connected to physiological changes. The sole exception was the sensation of warmth, which was linked to the reduction of tension in muscles.
  • There was a sizable correlation between overall intensity of the tingling sensation and body awareness. There is also a similarly-sized correlation with body-mind practice. The researchers conclude that attention-driven body sensations are more closely connected to top-down functions rather than peripheral processes.

Having determined that cognitive processes direct attention-driven body sensations associated with physical health, the study suggests that further research be undertaken regarding the full extent to which mental processes can adjust and regulate these health-related sensations.

Journal source:

Tihanyi B, Köteles F. PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CORRELATES OF ATTENTION-RELATED BODY SENSATIONS (TINGLING AND WARMTH). Physiology International. 2017; 104(3):235–246. DOI: doi.org/10.1556/2060.104.2017.3.4



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