Dr Jennifer Murphy has been awarded a highly prestigious New Investigator Research Grant from the Medical Research Council. The research programme will investigate sex differences in interoception.
Many common mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety and depression) are more common in women than men and when women experience mental illness it often presents differently to men. However, what underlies sex differences in mental illness is unclear.
Recent research suggests that the ability to perceive the internal state of your body (e.g. feeling your heartbeat; 'interoception') might be important for mental health and key abilities (e.g. emotion processing). Importantly, sex differences in interoception are well documented; compared to men, women are less accurate at perceiving interoceptive signals and yet report more attention to interoceptive signals. Given known links between interoception and mental health, questions remain regarding the extent to which sex differences in interoception relate to sex differences in mental health and why men and women differ with respect to interoception. In women, periods of physical and hormonal change (e.g. the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause) are often associated with changes in mood and mental health. However, whether the physical and hormonal change (e.g. during the menstrual cycle) disrupts interoception is not yet known.
Dr Murphy's project will examine the contribution of interoception to mental health and mood across the menstrual cycle and examine whether interoceptive training improves mental health and mood in both men and women. This research will further our understanding of sex differences in mental illness, and may ultimately help to identify and treat mental illness better when it occurs.