A pilot study exploring the relationships between interoception, mindfulness and exceptional experience

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Christine Simmonds-Moore, David Mitchell & Maya Baumeister
University of West Georgia

Introduction: This project sought to explore how mindfulness and interoception correlate with different forms of exceptional experience (ExE) and to one another. Exceptional experiences (ExE) refer to a range of unusual but not uncommon ways of experiencing the world, including experiences that are often labeled as “paranormal”. Belz and Fach (2015) note that there are four main ways in which people experience ExE. These occur as anomalies in the self-model (internal), anomalies in the world model (external and on the body); dissociative phenomena (self and world are dissociated) and coincidence phenomena (unusual coincidences between the self and the world models). To date there is little research on the correlates of these different ways of experiencing ExE.

Meditation and meditative states of consciousness are associated with increased reporting of ExE and psi performance (Roney-Dougal, 2015; Penberthy et al., 2020). Mindfulness may be important in the etiology of ExE, given its association with an attitude or stance that is openly aware as well as focally attentive in a non-judgmental way to one’s inner and outer experience. Baer and colleagues (2008) identified five general qualities of mindfulness and this study explores how these different facets might relate to the different types of ExE.

Interoception refers to how much the body is being listened to, within the current psycho-social context and may be important in understanding consciousness (Craig, 2009). This study explores how different aspects of interoception relate to the different types of ExE. Prior research suggests a relationship between certain types of meditation and increased interoception (Kok & Singer, 2017) but more research is needed to clarify the nature of the relationship. This study explores correlates between mindfulness, interoception and ExE subscales and a qualitative analysis of open ended questions about each ExE subtype.

Methods: This was a convergent mixed methods design. Psychology undergraduate and graduate students at UWG were invited to participate in an online survey which was set up in Qualtrics. The survey included a consent statement; demographics questions, a measure of mindfulness (the FFMQ), a measure of interoception (the MAIA), and the PAGE-R measure for exceptional experiences (Fach, Atmanspacher, Landolt, Wyss, & Rössler, 2013). This has 4 subscales measuring the different ways of experiencing ExE; ExE in the environment, internal ExE, knowledge-based ExE and physical ExE. Open-ended sections followed each subsection of the PAGE-R to ask participants to elaborate on the experience that they indicate having experienced in the questionnaire.

Results: There were 52 usable responses (14 were male and 38 were female). One of the 5 facets of mindfulnesscorrelated positively and significantly with all 4 of the ExE subscales. Six of the 8 interoception subscales correlated positively and significantly with ExE subscales. Several mindfulness facets correlated positively and significantly with interoception subscales. A TA identified themes for each of the ways in which people described different forms of ExE.

Baer, R.A., Smith, G.T., Lykins, E., Button, D., Krietemeyer, J., Sauer, S. & Williams, J.M.G. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329-342.

Belz, M., & Fach, W. (2015). Exceptional experiences (ExE) in clinical psychology. In E. Cardeña, J. Palmer, & D. Marcusson-Clavertz (Eds.), Parapsychology: A handbook for the 21st century (p. 364–379). McFarland & Co.

Craig AD. How do you feel–now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009 Jan;10(1):59-70. doi: 10.1038/nrn2555. PMID: 19096369.

Fach, W., Atmanspacher, H., Landolt, K., Wyss, T., & Rössler, W. (2013). A comparative study of exceptional experiences of clients seeking advice and of subjects in an ordinary population. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 65. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00065

Kok, B.E., Singer, T. Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across 9 Months of Training. Mindfulness 8, 218–231 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0594-9

Mehling W.E., Price C, Daubenmier JJ, Acree M, Bartmess E, Stewart A. (2012). The Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA). PLoS One, 7(11):e48230.

Penberthy, J.K., Hodge, A.S., Hook, J.N.,  Delorme, A., Pehlivanova, M., & Vieten, C. (2020). Meditators and Nonmeditators: A Descriptive Analysis Over Time with A Focus on Unusual and Extraordinary Experiences. J Yoga & Physio. 8(3): 555744. DOI: 10.19080/JYP.2020.08.555744

Roney-Dougal, S. M. (2015). Ariadne’s thread: Meditation and psi. In E. Cardeña, J. Palmer, & D. Marcusson-Clavertz (Eds.), Parapsychology: A handbook for the 21st century (p. 125–138). McFarland & Co.

Presenters

Christine Simmonds-Moore
Christine Simmonds-Moore

Christine Simmonds-Moore is a UK native who has a PhD from the University of Northampton. She is a Professor of Psychology at the University of West Georgia and has research interests in parapsychology and the psychology of exceptional experiences, paranormal beliefs and disbeliefs, personality and mental health correlates of exceptional experiences, synesthesia, altered states of consciousness, and healing and placebo effects. Presentation: A pilot study exploring the relationships between interoception, mindfulness and exceptional experience

David Salisbury Brown Mitchell
David Salisbury Brown Mitchell

David Salisbury Brown Mitchell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia. He obtained his master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology and developmental psychology, respectively, from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and his B.A. in Human Development from the University of California at San Diego. Passionate about “building bridges” conceptually, pedagogically, and relationally, his interests center broadly on cognition, culture, and consciousness.

A pilot study exploring the relationships between interoception, mindfulness and exceptional experience

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