An Active Inference Account of Touch and Verbal Communication in Therapy

Frontiers in Psychology 13 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper offers theoretical explanations for why “guided touch” or manual touch with verbal communication can be an effective way of treating the body and the mind. The active inference theory suggests that chronic pain and emotional disorders can be attributed to distorted and exaggerated patterns of interoceptive and proprioceptive inference. We propose that the nature of active inference is abductive. As such, to rectify aberrant active inference processes, we should change the “Rule” of abduction, or the “prior beliefs” entailed by a patient’s generative model. This means pre-existing generative models should be replaced with new models. To facilitate such replacement—or updating—the present treatment proposes that we should weaken prior beliefs, especially the one at the top level of hierarchical generative models, thereby altering the sense of agency, and redeploying attention. Then, a new prior belief can be installed through inner communication along with manual touch. The present paper proposes several hypotheses for possible experimental studies. If touch with verbal guidance is proven to be effective, this would demonstrate the relevance of active inference and the implicit prediction model at a behavioral level. Furthermore, it would open new possibilities of employing inner communication interventions, including self-talk training, for a wide range of psychological and physical therapies.

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