The Relationship between Anorexia Symptoms and the Perception of Observed Affective Touch: The Mediating Role of Interoceptive Awareness
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Interpersonal difficulties and social anhedonia are widely reported in relation to Anorexia Nervosa (AN) symptoms. This is also reflected in reduced pleasantness ratings of affective touch, a particularly gentle form of interpersonal touch processed by C-tactile (CT) afferents in the hairy parts of our skin. While prior research suggested that deficits in interoception mediate this relationship between AN symptoms and the perception of physically experienced affective touch, little is known about the association between AN symptoms and ratings of affective touch when watching it vicariously. In a community sample of sixty-five women, this self-report based online study investigated whether the relationship between subclinical AN symptoms and pleasantness ratings of videos depicting affective touch was dependent on touch velocity (slow CT-optimal touch versus fast CT-nonoptimal touch), and whether the relationship would be mediated by interoceptive awareness (IA). It was found that IA indeed negatively mediated the relationship between AN symptoms and vicarious CT-optimal touch perception but not CT-nonoptimal touch perception. These findings suggest that altered IA may partly explain the association between AN and vicarious touch perception, providing evidence for a further generalizability of social anhedonia and the potential mediating involvement of interoceptive deficits.