This is a segment from my Polyvagal One Pagers free PDF in my File Share. There are more short lessons on the fundamentals of the Polyvagal Theory in that PDF as well. These are useful for your own short lessons, classes you might teach or handouts you might give out at a seminar or workshop.
“Neuroception” is the word that Dr Stephen Porges created for the concept of unconsciously
detecting cues of safety or danger from the internal world or the external world and then shifting into defensive or safety autonomic states. It’s one of the main pillars of his Polyvagal Theory.
The body is constantly scanning the environment for these danger or safety cues. And it does so through the senses. Information from the senses goes to very primitive parts of the brain outside of our conscious awareness. Meaning, neuroception has nothing to do with choice. It has everything to do with predetermined neurobiological responses to safety or danger.
When we neurocept safety, we then engage in prosocial behaviors. And when we neurocept
danger, we engage in defensive behaviors like running or fighting. And when we neurocept that our life is in threat, we engage in shutdown behaviors.
Neuroception ties directly back into the autonomic nervous system and autonomic state. These neuroceptions of safety, danger or life threat “hĳack” the autonomic nervous system, shifting our autonomic state. If the autonomic state is shifted, how we filter and react to the world shifts along with it.
For example, if we neurocept that we are in danger, our body becomes more mobilized for running away: heart rate goes up, hearing is more attuned to danger sounds and breathing becomes more shallow. In this autonomic state, social engagement becomes much more of a challenge.
Although unconscious, we can mindfully attune to the experiences of the state shifts that come from neuroceptions. For example, if you’ve ever been around someone that makes your stomach turn, you might be neurocepting a life threat. Not that your life is actually in threat, but that system turns on around that specific person. Neuroceptive shifts are noticeable as they are happening or even after the event when thinking back.
For even more information on the Polyvagal Theory, check out these other resources I have: