Studies of the classic exteroceptive sensory systems (e.g., vision, touch) consistently demonstrate that vividly imagining a sensory experience of the world—simulating it—is associated with increased activity in the corresponding primary sensory cortex. We hypothesized, analogously, that simulating internal bodily sensations would be associated with increased neural activity in primary interoceptive cortex. An immersive, language-based mental imagery paradigm was used to test this hypothesis (e.g., imagine your heart pounding during a roller coaster ride, your face drenched in sweat during a workout). During two neuroimaging experiments, participants listened to vividly described situations and imagined “being there” in each scenario. In Study 1, we observed significantly heightened activity in primary interoceptive cortex (of dorsal posterior insula) during imagined experiences involving vivid internal sensations. This effect was specific to interoceptive simulation: It was not observed during a separate affect focus condition in Study 1 nor during an independent Study 2 that did not involve detailed simulation of internal sensations (instead involving simulation of other sensory experiences). These findings underscore the large-scale predictive architecture of the brain and reveal that words can be powerful drivers of bodily experiences.

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