The 6th (7th and 8th) Sense(s) — and no, it’s not “I see dead people”
Not a movie review of 1999s Sixth Sense, but an introduction to the three extra senses no one’s really talking about.
Senses : Vestibular, Proprioception and Interoception
Most, if not all people are familiar with the five senses — sight, sound, touch, smell and taste (or their more official and fancy titles: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory senses). When we started Sensory House, we did a deep dive into the various senses to gain a better understanding of the different issues one can experience in relation to them. This is when we first learned about the extra three senses we weren’t taught in school and were ignored in the 6th Sense (a great 90s film but completely unrelated to the senses).
Before we started looking into it, we were completely unfamiliar with the body’s 6th sense, the Vestibular sense, or the 7th sense, Proprioception or the heavily debated unofficial 8th sense, Interoception. At first we couldn’t wrap our heads around what exactly each of these senses did and was responsible for. Eventually we settled on these simplistic explanations to refer back to and serve as an introduction to each:
Vestibular (Balance & Orientation)
Located in the inner ear, the vestibular system assists with balance and spatial orientation by letting the body know where and how quickly the head is moving, which can impact motor skills, visual tracking and posture.
The vestibular system can tell your body things like when your head is upright or tilted (even if your eyes are closed). It’s responsible for tasks like balancing on one leg — depending on how we move our head, signals are sent to the brain, which then informs the body’s reaction and allows us to ideally stay upright and balanced. In a school setting, being able to look up and read something on a board and then back down to your work smoothly is also thanks to the vestibular system.
The vestibular sense can be activated through jumping, swinging and spinning (anything that has the head moving), while it can be calmed through slow rocking motions or stillness.
Proprioceptive (Body Awareness)
The body's proprioceptive sense is controlled by receptors (in skin, muscles, and joints) that connect with the brain through the nervous system and ensures that, even without seeing, a person knows their body’s position.
Knowing the position of your body means that automatic adjustments can be made to suit situations; like sitting in a chair or stepping from pavement to grass easily. Being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with your index finger requires the proprioception system. It allows us to manipulate objects using fine motor movements, like writing with a pencil or eating food with cutlery.
The proprioceptive sense is stimulated with every movement — depending on the person, activities like pushing, pulling, squeezing, stretching, climbing or lifting can excite or calm a person.
Interoceptive (Internal Sense)
The interoception system helps a person understand and feel what is happening inside their body, such as hunger or thirst, body temperature, tiredness — each important for self-regulation.
Accurately identifying interoceptive sensations is also associated with skill in emotional processing and decision-making. When the interoceptive signals are properly identified and understood, we can determine our body’s needs and in turn act; for example, if we are thirsty—we get a drink.
Putting these 8 senses together can be tricky for some people, but having a simple understanding of each can only help in managing them. Our senses are intended to work together so we can process stimuli and know what we are experiencing. We realize sometimes it’s not that easy though, so we are trying to offer support and aid to help everyone feel comfortable with their senses.