Humans Have a 'Sixth Sense', And It's Actually Vital to Our Health (2024)

Most people are familiar with the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste), but not everyone knows that we have an additional sense called interoception.

This is the sense of our body's internal state. It helps us feel and interpret internal signals that regulate vital functions in our body, like hunger, thirst, body temperature, and heart rate.

Although we don't take much notice of it, it's an extremely important sense as it ensures that every system in the body is working optimally.

It does this by alerting us to when our body may be out of balance – such as making us reach for a drink when we feel thirsty or telling us to take our jumper off when we're feeling too hot.

Interoception is also important for our mental health. This is because it contributes to many psychological processes - including decision making, social ability, and emotional wellbeing.

Disrupted interoception is even reported in many mental health conditions – including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It may also explain why many mental health conditions share similar symptoms – such as disturbed sleep or fatigue.

Despite how important interoception is to all aspects of our health, little is known about whether men and women differ in how accurately they sense their body's internal signals.

So far, studies that have investigated whether cisgender men and women (a person whose gender identity aligns with their biological sex) sense and interpret interoceptive signals from their heart, lungs, and stomach differently have found mixed results. Finding out if differences exist is important, as it may improve our understanding of differences in mental and physical health.

To get a clearer picture, we combined data from 93 studies looking at interoception in men and women. We focused on studies that looked at how people perceive heart, lung, and stomach signals across a range of different tasks.

For example, some studies had participants count their heart beats, while others asked participants to determine whether a flashing light happened when their stomach contracted, or tested if they could detect a difference in their breath while breathing into a device that makes it more difficult to do so normally.

Our analysis found that interoception does in fact differ between men and women. Women were significantly less accurate at heart-focused tasks (and to some extent lung-focused tasks) compared with men. These differences do not seem to be explained by other factors – such as how hard participants tried during the task, or physiological differences, such as body weight or blood pressure.

Though we found significant differences across heartbeat tasks, results for other tasks were less clear. This might be because only a small proportion of studies have looked at lung and stomach perception. It might be too early to tell whether men and women differ in their perception of these signals.

Mental health

Our findings may be important for helping us understand why many common mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) are more prevalent in women than men from puberty onward.

Several theories have been proposed to explain this – such as genetics, hormones, personality, and exposure to stress or childhood adversity.

But because we know that interoception is important for wellbeing, it could be possible that differences in interoception may partly explain why more women suffer from anxiety and depression than men.

This is because difficulties with interoception can affect many areas, including emotional, social, and cognitive function, which are all known risk factors for many mental health conditions.

Knowing the differences in how men and women sense interoceptive signals may also be important for treating mental illness.

While new studies suggest improving interoception improves mental health, studies also suggest that men may use interoceptive signals – for example from their heart – more than women when processing their emotions.

Other differences have also been reported, with studies suggesting that women pay more attention to interoceptive signals than men.

This could mean that treatments that target or seek to improve interoception may work better for some people, or that different techniques may work better for others. This is something future research will need to investigate.

But while we know these differences exist, we still don't know what causes them. Researchers have a few theories, including the distinct physiological and hormonal changes most men and women experience. It may also be caused by differences in how many men and women are taught to think about their emotions or interoceptive signals, like pain.

Better understanding all the factors that affect interoceptive ability may be important for someday developing better treatments for many mental health conditions.Humans Have a 'Sixth Sense', And It's Actually Vital to Our Health (1)

Jennifer Murphy, Lecturer in Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London and Freya Prentice, PhD Candidate at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, UCL.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An earlier version of this article was published in January 2022.

Humans Have a 'Sixth Sense', And It's Actually Vital to Our Health (2024)


What is the 6th sense of the human body? ›

You've probably been taught that humans have five senses: taste, smell, vision, hearing, and touch. However, an under-appreciated "sixth sense," called proprioception, allows us to keep track of where our body parts are in space.

Is it possible for humans to have a sixth sense? ›

Ask someone how many senses humans have and they are likely to say five—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. But depending on who you ask, that number can be much higher. For example, if you close your eye and touch your left knee with your right hand, you have already used a sixth sense—proprioception.

What does it mean when you have a sixth sense? ›

an ability that some people believe they have that seems to give them information without using the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste: A sixth sense told me that the train was going to crash. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases. Extrasensory perception & telepathy.

What is the six senses ability? ›

Extrasensory perception (ESP), also known as a sixth sense, or cryptaesthesia, is a claimed paranormal ability pertaining to reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses, but sensed with the mind. The term was adopted by Duke University botanist J. B.

What is a 7th sense? ›

The senses that protect the individual from external and internal perturbations through a contact delivery of information to the brain include the five senses, the proprioception, and the seventh sense—immune input. The peripheral immune cells detect microorganisms and deliver the information to the brain.

Does a human have 6 or 7 senses? ›

We all learned the five senses in elementary school: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. But did you know we actually have seven senses? The two lesser known senses are vestibular and proprioception and they are connected to the tactile sense (touch). Vestibular sense involves movement and balance.

How do you activate your 6th sense? ›

Part of developing a sixth sense is learning how to pay close attention to your surroundings, particularly to small or minute details. The more attention you pay to your surroundings, the more aware you become of slight changes and variations, and the more attuned you become with the world around you.

What is the purpose of sixth sense? ›

The Sixth Sense prototype is used to implement several applications that have shown the usefulness, viability and flexibility of the system. The Sixth Sense recognizes the objects around us and displays the information relating to those objects in a real time environment.

What are examples of The Sixth Sense? ›

Sixth sense in nutshell is the ability to perceive something that is not normally accessible to the five common senses. It is also called extrasensory perception or ESP. Some examples of sixth sense are intuition, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis.

What is the power of the sixth sense? ›

Odds are good that your decision was based, in part, on signals from your sixth sense. defines sixth sense as “a power or perception beyond the five senses; intuition.” The sixth sense is sometimes referred to as instinct or a gut feeling.

Why is the sixth sense so good? ›

With terrifying scenes, great characters, and a bond between Cole and Malcolm that teaches Cole a lot while helping Malcolm move on from this world, it's no wonder that The Sixth Sense has long been considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

What is the best human sense? ›

The results suggest that sight is the most valued sense, followed by hearing.

What are my 6th and 7th senses? ›

#6 Vestibular: The balance and movement sense. It helps with riding a bike or sliding down a slide. #7 Proprioception: The body sense. It helps with knowing where a body part is without looking at it.

What is the 6th sense of human intuition? ›

Intuition is the ability to know something without any proof. It is sometimes known as a “gut feeling,” “instinct,” or “sixth sense.” For hundreds of years, intuition has had a bad reputation among scientists. It has often been seen as inferior to reason.

What can be a sixth sense? ›

Sixth sense is a power of perception beyond the five senses; intuition. It is an inner sense of guidance that can help you navigate your way through life, to better relationships, health, well-being, and success.

What is a woman's sixth sense? ›

Being able to use the whole brain in processing information allows women to perceive things in a broader sense and make conclusions based on a vast array of input. This sixth sense is founded on the “whole brain” thinking that takes input from a multitude of sources to produce uncanny and often unexplainable insights.

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