A Machine Learning Approach Towards the Differentiation Between Interoceptive and Exteroceptive Attention

Author: Zoey X Zuo1, Cynthia J Price2, Norman A S Farb1,3
1 Department of Psychological Clinical Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.
2 Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Informatics, University of Washington, Washington, USA.
3 Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
Conference/Journal: Eur J Neurosci
Date published: 2023 May 11
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/ejn.16045. , Word Count: 216

Interoception, the representation of the body's internal state, plays a central role in emotion, motivation, and wellbeing. Interoceptive sensibility, the ability to engage in sustained interoceptive awareness, is particularly relevant for mental health but is exclusively measured via self-report, without methods for objective measurement. We used machine learning to classify interoceptive sensibility by contrasting using data from a randomized control trial of interoceptive training (MABT), with fMRI assessment before and after an 8-week intervention (N = 44 scans). The neuroimaging paradigm manipulated attention targets (breath vs. visual stimuli) and reporting demands (active reporting vs. passive monitoring). Machine learning achieved high accuracy in distinguishing between interoceptive and exteroceptive attention, both for within-session classification (~80% accuracy) and out-of-sample classification (~70% accuracy), revealing the reliability of the predictions. We then explored the classifier potential for "reading out" mental states in a 3-minute sustained interoceptive attention task. Participants were classified as actively engaged about half of the time, during which interoceptive training enhanced their ability to sustain interoceptive attention. These findings demonstrate that interoceptive and exteroceptive attention are distinguishable at the neural level; these classifiers may help to demarcate periods of interoceptive focus, with implications for developing an objective marker for interoceptive sensibility in mental health research.

Keywords: Interoception; Machine Learning; Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT); Randomized Controlled Trial; fMRI.

PMID: 37170067 DOI: 10.1111/ejn.16045