Award for interoception researcher

Ella Rhodes reports on the Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research winner.

A researcher who has been unravelling some of the mysteries of interoception – or our awareness and perception of our body’s inner states – has won the 2020 BPS Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research. Dr Jennifer Murphy’s (Royal Holloway, University of London) thesis encompassed 11 peer-reviewed articles which explored the relationship between interoception, mental health, and higher order cognition, as well as the measurement, developmental trajectory and genetic underpinnings of interoception.  

Murphy said there were still many outstanding questions in this area which she took the first step to answering through her work – for example the ways interoception may vary across development, how different aspects of interoception relate to each other, and how best to measure interoception. ‘Whilst the term has been around for over 100 years, it is only recently that there has been a huge uptick of interest in interoception.

‘Such interest has arguably been driven by observations that interoception impacts fundamental cognitive domains associated with psychiatric risk and that atypical interoception is observed across multiple physical and mental health conditions, where it is thought to play a role in both disorder specific (e.g., atypical eating in eating disorders) and transdiagnostic (e.g., emotion regulation) symptoms.’
In her future research Murphy said she hoped to explore sex differences in interoception – women are less accurate at perceiving interoceptive signals but report paying more attention to them – and there has been little work to understand the causes of these sex differences.

‘During my doctoral studies, I wrote a paper proposing that sex differences in interoception may arise from the increased amount of physical and hormonal change women experience across typical development (for example, during menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause) and that (given links between interoception and mental health) these sex differences may also contribute towards known sex differences in mental health. I hope that I will have the opportunity to test this theory in the future!’

Murphy said it was an honour to have received the doctoral award. ‘Looking through the list of previous winners it is hard to believe that my name belongs alongside these exceptional scientists! Whilst it is wonderful to receive such recognition, science is a team effort and I have been so lucky to have worked with amazing advisors, mentors and collaborators who made this work possible.’ 

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