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1.  Relationship between alexithymia and coping strategies in patients with somatoform disorder 
A multidimensional intervention integrating alexithymia, negative affect, and type of coping strategy is needed for the effective treatment of somatoform disorder; however, few studies have applied this approach to the three different dimensions of alexithymia in patients with somatoform disorder. The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between type of coping strategy and three different dimensions of alexithymia expressed in patients.
Patients and methods
A total of 196 patients with somatoform disorder completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale, the Spielberger State–Trait Anxiety Inventory, the Somatosensory Amplification Scale, and the Lazarus Stress Coping Inventory. The relationships between alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale – 20 score and subscales), demographic variables, and psychological inventory scores were analyzed using Pearson’s correlation coefficients and stepwise multiple regression analysis.
The mean Toronto Alexithymia Scale – 20 total score (56.1±10.57) was positively correlated with the number of physical symptoms as well as with psychopathology scores (Self-Rating Depression Scale, State–Trait Anxiety Inventory trait, state, and Somatosensory Amplification Scale), but negatively correlated with planful problem solving, confrontive coping, seeking social support, and positive reappraisal coping scores. With respect to coping strategy, multiple regression analyses revealed that “difficulty in identifying feelings” was positively associated with an escape–avoidance strategy, “difficulty in describing feelings” was negatively associated with a seeking social support strategy, and “externally oriented thinking” was negatively associated with a confrontive coping strategy.
Alexithymia was strongly associated with the number of somatic symptoms and negative affect. Patients with high “difficulty in describing feelings” tend to rely less on seeking social support, and patients with high “externally oriented thinking” tend to rely less on confrontive coping strategies. The coping skills intervention implemented should differ across individuals and should be based on the alexithymia dimension of each patient.
PMCID: PMC3883553  PMID: 24403835
somatoform disorder; alexithymia; stress; coping strategies
2.  Neural activity during interoceptive awareness and its associations with alexithymia—An fMRI study in major depressive disorder and non-psychiatric controls 
Objective: Alexithymia relates to difficulties recognizing and describing emotions. It has been linked to subjectively increased interoceptive awareness (IA) and to psychiatric illnesses such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and somatization. MDD in turn is characterized by aberrant emotion processing and IA on the subjective as well as on the neural level. However, a link between neural activity in response to IA and alexithymic traits in health and depression remains unclear.
Methods: A well-established fMRI task was used to investigate neural activity during IA (heartbeat counting) and exteroceptive awareness (tone counting) in non-psychiatric controls (NC) and MDD. Firstly, comparing MDD and NC, a linear relationship between IA-related activity and scores of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS) was investigated through whole-brain regression. Secondly, NC were divided by median-split of TAS scores into groups showing low (NC-low) or high (NC-high) alexithymia. MDD and NC-high showed equally high TAS scores. Subsequently, IA-related neural activity was compared on a whole-brain level between the three independent samples (MDD, NC-low, NC-high).
Results: Whole-brain regressions between MDD and NC revealed neural differences during IA as a function of TAS-DD (subscale difficulty describing feelings) in the supragenual anterior cingulate cortex (sACC; BA 24/32), which were due to negative associations between TAS-DD and IA-related activity in NC. Contrasting NC subgroups after median-split on a whole-brain level, high TAS scores were associated with decreased neural activity during IA in the sACC and increased insula activity. Though having equally high alexithymia scores, NC-high showed increased insula activity during IA compared to MDD, whilst both groups showed decreased activity in the sACC.
Conclusions: Within the context of decreased sACC activity during IA in alexithymia (NC-high and MDD), increased insula activity might mirror a compensatory mechanism in NC-high, which is disrupted in MDD.
PMCID: PMC4444750  PMID: 26074827
major depressive disorder; alexithymia; interoceptive awareness; insula; sACC; interoception; fMRI; neuroimaging
3.  Traumatic experiences, alexithymia, and posttraumatic symptomatology: a cross-sectional population-based study in Germany 
European Journal of Psychotraumatology  2014;5:10.3402/ejpt.v5.23870.
Previous studies have established an association between number of traumatic experiences and alexithymia. The present study examines this relationship in a large-scale representative sample of the German general population (N=2,507) and explores the potential mediating effects of posttraumatic symptomatology, particularly avoidance/numbing.
Alexithymia was assessed with the German version of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). Posttraumatic symptomatology was operationalized by the symptom score of the modified German version of the Posttraumatic Symptom Scale, and traumatic experiences were assessed with the trauma list of the Munich Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Two mediation analyses were conducted.
Of the total sample, 24.2% (n=606) reported at least one traumatic experience, 10.6% (n=258) were classified as alexithymic, and 2.4% (n=59) fulfilled the criteria of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants who had survived five or more traumatic experiences had significantly higher alexithymia sum scores. The PTSD symptom cluster avoidance/numbing mediated the association between the number of traumatic experiences and alexithymia.
Our findings illustrate an association between number of traumatic experiences and alexithymia and the influence of emotional avoidance and numbing within this relationship. The significant relationship between alexithymia and number of traumatic experiences in a general population sample further supports the concept of multiple and complex traumatization as associated with alexithymia. The results suggest the importance of further investigations determining the causal impact of alexithymia both as a potential premorbid trait and as consequence of traumatization. Lastly, future investigations are needed to clarify alexithymia as a distinct trauma-relevant characteristic for better diagnostics and specialized trauma-integrative therapy.
PMCID: PMC4149745  PMID: 25206956
PTSD; TAS-20; multiple and complex traumatization; avoidance/numbing; mediation
4.  Alexithymia and the Processing of Emotional Facial Expressions (EFEs): Systematic Review, Unanswered Questions and Further Perspectives 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42429.
Alexithymia is characterized by difficulties in identifying, differentiating and describing feelings. A high prevalence of alexithymia has often been observed in clinical disorders characterized by low social functioning. This review aims to assess the association between alexithymia and the ability to decode emotional facial expressions (EFEs) within clinical and healthy populations. More precisely, this review has four main objectives: (1) to assess if alexithymia is a better predictor of the ability to decode EFEs than the diagnosis of clinical disorder; (2) to assess the influence of comorbid factors (depression and anxiety disorder) on the ability to decode EFE; (3) to investigate if deficits in decoding EFEs are specific to some levels of processing or task types; (4) to investigate if the deficits are specific to particular EFEs. Twenty four studies (behavioural and neuroimaging) were identified through a computerized literature search of Psycinfo, PubMed, and Web of Science databases from 1990 to 2010. Data on methodology, clinical characteristics, and possible confounds were analyzed. The review revealed that: (1) alexithymia is associated with deficits in labelling EFEs among clinical disorders, (2) the level of depression and anxiety partially account for the decoding deficits, (3) alexithymia is associated with reduced perceptual abilities, and is likely to be associated with impaired semantic representations of emotional concepts, and (4) alexithymia is associated with neither specific EFEs nor a specific valence. These studies are discussed with respect to processes involved in the recognition of EFEs. Future directions for research on emotion perception are also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3426527  PMID: 22927931
Pain  2010;149(2):273-277.
Alexithymia, the inability to identify or label emotions, has been shown to be associated with pain in patients with a number of chronic pain conditions. We sought to: (1) replicate this association in samples of persons with chronic pain secondary to neuromuscular disease; (2) extend this finding to other important pain-related measures, and (3) to determine whether relationships among alexithymia and study variables existed after controlling for negative affect. One hundred and twenty-nine individuals with muscular dystrophy and chronic pain were administered measures of alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale, TAS-20), pain intensity (0–10 NRS), pain interference (Brief Pain Inventory Interference scale), mental health (SF-36 Mental Health scale; as a proxy measure of negative affect) and vitality (SF-36 Vitality scale). Higher TAS scores were associated significantly with higher pain intensity and interference, and less vitality. Although the strengths of these associations were reduced when mental health was used as a control, the associations between the Difficulty Identifying Feelings scale and vitality, and the Externally Oriented Thinking and Total TAS scales and pain intensity remained statistically significant. The findings replicate and extend previous findings concerning the associations between alexithymia and important pain-related variables in a sample of persons with chronic pain and neuromuscular disease. Future research is needed to determine the extent to which the associations are due to (1) a possible causal effect of alexithymia on patient functioning that is mediated via its effects on negative affect or (2) the possibility that alexithymia/outcome relationships reflect response bias caused by general negative affectivity.
PMCID: PMC2860641  PMID: 20207082
Alexithymia; neuromuscular disease; chronic pain; TAS-20; SF-36
6.  The Relationship between Alexithymia and General Symptoms of Patients with Depressive Disorders 
Psychiatry Investigation  2008;5(3):179-185.
Depression has been associated with alexithymic features. However, few studies have investigated the differences in the general symptoms of patients with depressive disorders according to the presence of alexithymia. Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate the relationship between alexithymia and symptoms experienced by patients with clinically diagnosed depressive disorders.
A chart review of patients who were evaluated using the Korean version of the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and Symptom Checklist 90-Revised (SCL-90-R) at the same time between the years 2003 and 2007 was conducted. A total of 104 patients with depressive disorders were included and divided into two groups: alexithymia (n=52) and non-alexithymia (n=52). A direct comparison between the two groups was carried out. Regression analysis was also carried out for the TAS-20 total and subset scores in order to model the relationship between alexithymia and symptoms.
The presence of alexithymia was confirmed in 50% of the patients with depressive disorders, and the symptoms of depressive patients with alexithymia were more severe than those of their non-alexithymic counterparts on all 9 symptom domains of the SCL-90-R. Furthermore, regression analysis revealed that the presence of alexithymia was positively associated with depression, phobic anxiety, and psychoticism but inversely associated with anxiety.
These results suggest that the clinical features of depression are partially dependent on the presence of alexithymia. Alexithymic patients with depressive disorders are likely to show more severe depressive, psychotic, and phobic symptoms. In other words, clinicians should suspect the presence of alexithymic tendencies if these symptoms coexist in patients with depressive disorders and address their difficulties in effective communication.
PMCID: PMC2796028  PMID: 20046363
Alexithymia; Depression; Symptomatology; Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20; Symptom Checklist-90-Revised
7.  Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Thickness Is Related to Alexithymia in Childhood Trauma-Related PTSD 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(10):e0139807.
Alexithymia, or “no words for feelings”, is highly prevalent in samples with childhood maltreatment and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) has been identified as a key region involved in alexithymia, early life trauma, and PTSD. Functional alterations in the dACC also have been associated with alexithymia in PTSD. This study examined whether dACC morphology is a neural correlate of alexithymia in child maltreatment-related PTSD. Sixteen adults with PTSD and a history of childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or exposure to domestic violence, and 24 healthy controls (HC) completed the Toronto Alexithymia Scale 20 (TAS–20) and underwent magnetic resonance imaging. Cortical thickness of the dACC was measured using FreeSurfer, and values were correlated with TAS–20 scores, controlling for sex and age, in both groups. Average TAS–20 score was significantly higher in the PTSD than the HC group. TAS–20 scores were significantly positively associated with dACC thickness only in the PTSD group. This association was strongest in the left hemisphere and for TAS–20 subscales that assess difficulty identifying and describing feelings. We found that increasing dACC gray matter thickness is a neural correlate of greater alexithymia in the context of PTSD with childhood maltreatment. While findings are correlational, they motivate further inquiry into the relationships between childhood adversity, emotional awareness and expression, and dACC morphologic development in trauma-related psychopathology.
PMCID: PMC4595375  PMID: 26439117
8.  Alexithymic Trait, Painful Heat Stimulation, and Everyday Pain Experience 
Alexithymia was found to be associated with a variety of somatic complaints, including somatoform pain symptoms. This study addressed the question of whether the different facets of alexithymia are related to responses in heat pain stimulation and its interrelations with levels of everyday pain as assessed by self-report.
In the study, sensitivity to heat pain was assessed in 50 healthy female participants. Alexithymia facets were assessed by the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. Pain threshold and tolerance were determined using a testing the limits procedure. Participants, furthermore, rated subjective intensities and unpleasantness of tonic heat stimuli (45.5–47.5°C) on visual analog scales and on a questionnaire. Possible confounding with temperature sensitivity and mood was controlled. Everyday pain was assessed by self-report addressing everyday pain frequency, intensity, and impairment experienced over the last 2 months.
Main results were that the facets of alexithymia were differentially associated with pain perception. The affective scale “difficulties in describing feelings” was associated with hyposensitivity to pain as indicated by higher pain tolerance scores. Furthermore, everyday pain frequency was related to increased alexithymia values on the affective scale “difficulties in identifying feelings,” whereas higher values on the cognitive alexithymia scale “externally oriented thinking” were related to lower pain impairment and intensity.
We conclude that the different facets of alexithymia are related to alternations in pain processing. Further research on clinical samples is necessary to elucidate whether different aspects of alexithymia act as a vulnerability factor for the development of pain symptoms.
PMCID: PMC4595777  PMID: 26500561
heat pain; pain perception; alexithymia; self-reported pain; depression; somatic symptoms
9.  Alexithymia in juvenile primary headache sufferers: a pilot study 
Starting in the 1990s, there has been accumulating evidence of alexithymic characteristics in adult patients with primary headache. Little research has been conducted, however, on the relationship between alexithymia and primary headache in developmental age. In their research on alexithymia in the formative years, the authors identified one of the most promising prospects for research, as discussed here. The aim of this study was to verify whether there is: (a) a link between tension-type headache and alexithymia in childhood and early adolescence; and (b) a correlation between alexithymia in children/preadolescents and their mothers. This study was based on an experimental group of 32 patients (26 females and 6 males, aged from 8 to 15 years, mean 11.2 ± 2.0) suffering from tension-type headache and 32 control subjects (26 females and 6 males, aged from 8 to 15 years, mean 11.8 ± 1.6). Tension-type headache was diagnosed by applying the International Headache Classification (ICHD-II, 2004). The alexithymic construct was measured using an Italian version of the Alexithymia Questionnaire for Children in the case of the juvenile patients and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) for their mothers. Higher rates of alexithymia were observed in the children/preadolescents in the experimental group (EG) than in the control group; in the EG there was no significant correlation between the alexithymia rates in the children/preadolescents and in their mothers.
PMCID: PMC3072508  PMID: 20730593
Alexithymia; Toronto alexithymia scale; Primary headache; Tension-type headache; Children and adolescents
10.  Alexithymia in juvenile primary headache sufferers: a pilot study 
Starting in the 1990s, there has been accumulating evidence of alexithymic characteristics in adult patients with primary headache. Little research has been conducted, however, on the relationship between alexithymia and primary headache in developmental age. In their research on alexithymia in the formative years, the authors identified one of the most promising prospects for research, as discussed here. The aim of this study was to verify whether there is: (a) a link between tension-type headache and alexithymia in childhood and early adolescence; and (b) a correlation between alexithymia in children/preadolescents and their mothers. This study was based on an experimental group of 32 patients (26 females and 6 males, aged from 8 to 15 years, mean 11.2 ± 2.0) suffering from tension-type headache and 32 control subjects (26 females and 6 males, aged from 8 to 15 years, mean 11.8 ± 1.6). Tension-type headache was diagnosed by applying the International Headache Classification (ICHD-II, 2004). The alexithymic construct was measured using an Italian version of the Alexithymia Questionnaire for Children in the case of the juvenile patients and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) for their mothers. Higher rates of alexithymia were observed in the children/preadolescents in the experimental group (EG) than in the control group; in the EG there was no significant correlation between the alexithymia rates in the children/preadolescents and in their mothers.
PMCID: PMC3072508  PMID: 20730593
Alexithymia; Toronto alexithymia scale; Primary headache; Tension-type headache; Children and adolescents
11.  Alexithymic characteristics in pediatric patients with primary headache: a comparison between migraine and tension-type headache 
Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized by difficulties in verbal emotional expression and a limited ability to use one’s imagination. Evidence of alexithymic characteristics was found in adults suffering from headache, while little is known about children. The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence of alexithymia in two different subgroups of children and adolescents suffering from primary headache. We also looked for correlation between alexithymia in children and in their mothers.
This study involved 89 participants: 47 (11 males, 36 females, aged 8 to 17 years) suffering from tension-type headache (TTH), and 42 (18 males, 24 females, aged 8 to 17 years) suffering from migraine (M), based on the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD 2013). A control group of 32 headache-free subjects (26 females and 6 males, aged 8 to17 years) was also considered. Two questionnaires were administered to measure alexithymia: the Alexithymia Questionnaire for Children to young patients and controls, and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) to the mothers.
Higher rates of alexithymia emerged in the TTH group compared to the M group. In particular, TTH sufferers had difficulty identifying their feelings. The mothers of children with headaches didn’t score higher in alexithymia compared to other mothers. In the M and in the control group, there was a significant correlation between the rates of alexithymia in young people and in their mothers.
To date no other study has investigated alexithymia in subgroups of primary headaches in developmental age. Our results suggest that patients suffering from TTH are more alexithymic than M patients. This pave the way to etiopathogenetic and clinical considerations, calling for a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to tackle the problem of headache.
PMCID: PMC4659793  PMID: 26607363
Alexithymia; Toronto Alexithymia Scale; Alexithymia Questionnaire for Children; Tension-type headache; Migraine
12.  Abnormalities in Automatic Processing of Illness-Related Stimuli in Self-Rated Alexithymia 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0129905.
To investigate abnormalities in automatic information processing related to self- and observer-rated alexithymia, especially with regard to somatization, controlling for confounding variables such as depression and affect.
89 healthy subjects (60% female), aged 19–71 years (M = 32.1). 58 subjects were additionally rated by an observer.
Alexithymia (self-rating: TAS-20, observer rating: OAS); automatic information processing (priming task including verbal [illness-related, negative, positive, neutral] and facial [negative, positive, neutral] stimuli); somatoform symptoms (SOMS-7T); confounders: depression (BDI), affect (PANAS).
Higher self-reported alexithymia scores were associated with lower reaction times for negative (r = .19, p < .10) and positive (r = .26, p < .05) verbal primes when the target was illness-related. Self-reported alexithymia was correlated with number (r = .42, p < .01) and intensity of current somatoform symptoms (r = .36, p < .01), but unrelated to observer-rated alexithymia (r = .11, p = .42).
Results indicate a faster allocation of attentional resources away from task-irrelevant information towards illness-related stimuli in alexithymia. Considering the close relationship between alexithymia and somatization, these findings are compatible with the theoretical view that alexithymics focus strongly on bodily sensations of emotional arousal. A single observer rating (OAS) does not seem to be an adequate alexithymia-measure in community samples.
PMCID: PMC4474975  PMID: 26090893
13.  Alexithymia and fear of pain independently predict heat pain intensity ratings among undergraduate university students 
Alexithymia is a disturbance in awareness and cognitive processing of affect that is associated with over-reporting of physical symptoms, including pain. The relationship between alexithymia and other psychological constructs that are often associated with pain has yet to be evaluated.
The present study examined the importance of alexithymia in the pain experience in relation to other integral psychological components of Turk’s diathesis-stress model of chronic pain and disability, including fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity, pain avoidance and pain catastrophizing.
Heat pain stimuli, using a magnitude estimation procedure, and five questionnaires (Anxiety Sensitivity Index, Fear of Pain Questionnaire III, Pain Catastrophizing Scale, avoidance subscale of the Pain Anxiety Symptoms Scale-20 and Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20) were administered to 67 undergraduate students (44 women) with a mean (± SD) age of 20.39±3.77 years.
Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that sex, fear of pain and alexithymia were the only significant predictors of average heat pain intensity (F[6, 60]=5.43; R2=0.35; P=0.008), accounting for 6.8%, 20.0% and 9.6% of unique variance, respectively. Moreover, the difficulty identifying feelings and difficulty describing feelings subscales, but not the externally oriented thinking subscale of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 significantly predicted average heat pain intensity.
Individuals with higher levels of alexithymia or increased fear of pain reported higher average pain intensity ratings. The relationship between alexithymia and pain intensity was unrelated to other psychological constructs usually associated with pain. These findings suggest that difficulties with emotion regulation, either through reduced emotional awareness via alexithymia or heightened emotional awareness via fear of pain, may negatively impact the pain experience.
PMCID: PMC2734517  PMID: 19714270
Alexithymia; Fear of pain; Heat pain stimulation; Pain intensity; Undergraduates
14.  Alexithymia Is Associated with Greater Risk of Chronic Pain and Negative Affect and with Lower Life Satisfaction in a General Population: The Hisayama Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90984.
Chronic pain is a significant health problem worldwide, with a prevalence in the general population of approximately 40%. Alexithymia — the personality trait of having difficulties with emotional awareness and self-regulation — has been reported to contribute to an increased risk of several chronic diseases and health conditions, and limited research indicates a potential role for alexithymia in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. However, no study has yet examined the associations between alexithymia and chronic pain in the general population.
We administered measures assessing alexithymia, pain, disability, anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction to 927 adults in Hisayama, Japan. We classified the participants into four groups (low-normal alexithymia, middle-normal alexithymia, high-normal alexithymia, and alexithymic) based on their responses to the alexithymia measure. We calculated the risk estimates for the criterion measures by a logistic regression analysis.
Controlling for demographic variables, the odds ratio (OR) for having chronic pain was significantly higher in the high-normal (OR: 1.49, 95% CI: 1.07–2.09) and alexithymic groups (OR: 2.56, 95% CI: 1.47–4.45) compared to the low-normal group. Approximately 40% of the participants belonged to these two high-risk groups. In the subanalyses of the 439 participants with chronic pain, the levels of pain intensity, disability, depression, and anxiety were significantly increased and the degree of life satisfaction was decreased with elevating alexithymia categories.
The findings demonstrate that, in the general population, higher levels of alexithymia are associated with a higher risk of having chronic pain. The early identification and treatment of alexithymia and negative affect may be beneficial in preventing chronic pain and reducing the clinical and economic burdens of chronic pain. Further research is needed to determine if this association is due to a causal effect of alexithymia on the prevalence and severity of chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC3951296  PMID: 24621785
15.  Alexithymia, anxiety and depression in patients with psoriasis: a case–control study 
Alexithymia, the difficulty in describing or recognizing emotions, has been associated with various psychosomatic pathologies including psoriasis. The aim of this study was to examine the prevalence of alexithymia and its association with anxiety and depression in patients with psoriasis compared with healthy participants, while taking into consideration demographic and clinical variables.
One hundred and eight psoriatic patients and 100 healthy participants from the general population completed the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). The severity of patients’ psoriasis was clinically assessed using the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI).
Psoriatic patients had higher levels of alexithymia compared with healthy participants. While a rather high rate of psoriatic patients presented anxiety and depression as defined by the HADS, the differences that were found in comparison with the control group were not significant. Neither alexithymia nor its dimensions, difficulty in identifying feelings (DIF), difficulty in describing feelings (DDF) and externally oriented thinking (EOT), were associated with gender or psoriasis severity. Age was associated only with EOT, which was independent of depression and anxiety. Higher anxiety and depression were connected with higher alexithymia and DIF, while higher anxiety with higher DDF as well.
The alexithymia prevalence was higher in psoriatic patients than that in healthy participants, while it was positively correlated with anxiety and depression. Difficulty in identifying feelings was connected with both anxiety and depression, whereas difficulty in describing them was only with anxiety. Finally, externally oriented thinking was predicted only from age.
PMCID: PMC4269099  PMID: 25520742
Alexithymia; Anxiety; Depression; Psoriasis; TAS-20
16.  Aging and Alexithymia Association with Reduced Right Rostral Cingulate Volume 
Previous studies have linked alexithymia to an inability to process emotions appropriately. Older persons show changes in emotion processing and have higher alexithymia scores. Because the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is one of the regions showing earlier decline in late-life and alexithymia appears to be related to a dysfunction in right hemisphere regions including the ACC subserving affective processes, the present study sought to test the hypothesis that reduced ACC volume accounts for the association between older age and alexithymia.
Correlation analyses between functionally distinct ACC subregions, age and alexithymia features.
University of Iowa
24 healthy volunteers aged twenty-four to seventy-nine years.
Psychiatric and neuropsychological assessment and assessment of alexithymia using the twenty items Toronto Alexithymia Scale. High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, and in-house developed methods for ACC parcellation.
Older age directly correlated with higher overall alexithymia, and reduced bilateral rostral and right dorsal ACC grey matter volume. Furthermore, higher alexithymia scores correlated with reduced right rostral ACC volume. This correlation appeared to be influenced primarily by factor 3 of the alexithymia scale measuring diversion of attention to external details in place of internal feelings.
These results suggest that alexithymia in older age may be a result of structural changes in the right rostral ACC.
PMCID: PMC2925448  PMID: 18697882
ACC; Alexithymia; Aging; Depression; Emotion
17.  “That pulled the rug out from under my feet!” – adverse experiences and altered emotion processing in patients with functional neurological symptoms compared to healthy comparison subjects 
BMC Psychiatry  2015;15:133.
Medically unexplained movement or sensibility disorders, recently defined in DSM-5 as functional neurological symptoms (FNS), are still insufficiently understood. Stress and trauma have been addressed as relevant factors in FNS genesis. Altered emotion processing has been discussed.
The present study screened different types and times of adverse experiences in childhood and adulthood in patients with FNS as well as in healthy individuals. The relationship between stress profile, aspects of emotion processing and symptom severity was examined, with the hypothesis that particularly emotional childhood adversities would have an impact on dysfunctional emotion processing as a mediator of FNS.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE), recent negative life events (LE), alexithymia, and emotion regulation style were assessed in 45 inpatients diagnosed with dissociative disorder expressing FNS, and in 45 healthy comparison subjects (HC).
Patients reported more severe FNS, more (particularly emotional) ACE, and more LE than HC. FNS severity varied with emotional ACE and negative LE, and LE partially mediated the relation between ACE and FNS. Alexithymia and suppressive emotion regulation style were stronger in patients than HC, and alexithymia varied with FNS severity. Structural equation modeling verified partial mediation of the relationship between emotional ACE and FNS by alexithymia.
Early, emotional and accumulating stress show a substantial impact on FNS-associated emotion processing, influencing FNS. Understanding this complex interplay of stress, emotion processing and the severity of FNS is relevant not only for theoretical models, but, as a consequence also inform diagnostic and therapeutic adjustments.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0514-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4477601  PMID: 26103961
Functional neurological symptoms; Somatoform dissociation; Conversion; Dissociative movement and sensibility disorders; Adverse childhood experiences; Life events; Alexithymia; Suppression; Emotion regulation; Building block effect
18.  Association of Alexithymia and Depression Symptom Severity in Adults 50 Years of Age and Older 
Alexithymia is a characteristic style of thinking and feeling involving deficits in the recognition of emotions. It is associated with depression onset and severity in younger adults, but researchers have not yet examined the association between alexithymia and depression severity in clinically depressed older adults.
One hundred and thirty four patients 50 years and age or older with a confirmed DSM-IV Axis I mood disorder and currently receiving mental health treatment.
Alexithymia was measured using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (TAS-20), a 20-item measure with subscales assessing Difficulty Identifying Feelings (DIF), Difficulty Describing Feelings (DDF), and Externally Oriented Thinking (EOT). Depression symptom severity was measured using the Beck Depression Inventory Second Edition (BDI-II).
Total alexithymia scores were independently related to depressive symptom severity after controlling for demographics, cognitive functioning and illness burden. DIF and DDF subscale scores were also independently associated with BDI-II scores.
The association between alexithymia and depression symptom severity could be attributed to difficulties in recognizing and describing negative emotions and resulting delays in seeking mental health treatment. Future research should focus on modifiable risk factors related to difficulties identifying and describing feelings.
PMCID: PMC3071987  PMID: 20094018
Alexithymia; depression; older adults
19.  Prevalence of alexithymia and its association with anxiety and depression in a sample of Greek chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) outpatients 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major health problem, especially in adults over 40 years of age, and has a great social and economic impact. The psychological morbidity of COPD patients with regard to anxiety and depressive symptoms has been extensively studied in the past. However, few studies have investigated the prevalence of alexithymia in these patients, as well as its association with this comorbidity. Based on this fact, we studied the prevalence of alexithymia and its association with anxiety and depressive symptoms in COPD outpatients.
The present study included 167, randomly selected, outpatients diagnosed with COPD. Alexithymia, anxiety and depression were assessed using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), respectively.
The mean BDI score was 12.88 (SD: 7.7), mean STAI score 41.8 (SD: 11.0) and mean TAS-20 score 48.2 (SD: 11.5). No differences were observed between genders regarding age and alexithymia (t test P > 0.05), while female patients presented higher depression and trait anxiety scores than males (t test P < 0.05). Clinically significant levels of anxiety were present in 37.1% of men, and in 45.7% of women. The mean depression score was also higher than the corresponding mean score in the general population (one-sample t test P < 0.01), while 27.7% and 30.5% of the sample presented mild and moderate to severe depression, respectively. Finally, a strong correlation was observed between alexithymia, depression and anxiety.
This study confirms the high prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms in Greek outpatients with COPD. The prevalence of alexithymia in COPD patients, contrary to what has been observed in patients with other chronic respiratory diseases, seem to be lower. However, we observed a strong association between alexithymia, depression and anxiety levels. This observation suggests that alexithymia should be taken into consideration when drafting specific psychotherapeutic interventions for these patients.
PMCID: PMC2873300  PMID: 20398249
20.  Alexithymia and Stress Response Patterns among Patients with Depressive Disorders in Korea 
Psychiatry Investigation  2009;6(1):13-18.
Alexithymic characteristics may represent cognitive and affective mediators between stressors and stress responses among those with depressive disorders. This study evaluated how alexithymic characteristics, as measured by the Korean version of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (TAS-20K), could be related to stress response patterns, as measured by the Stress Response Inventory (SRI), within a sample composed of individuals diagnosed with depressive disorders.
Participants comprised a cross section of patients diagnosed with depressive disorders (n=98). Data on demographic and psychosocial factors (i.e., sex, age, and level of education), clinical profiles {i.e., primary and comorbid psychiatric conditions meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) criteria at the time of the evaluation}, duration of illness, medications, and Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scores, and the results of psychological assessments (TAS-20K, SRI) were analyzed.
Patients having depressive disorders with alexithymia obtained significantly higher scores in terms of all seven subscales of the SRI, as compared to those without alexithymia, a logistic regression model was used to assess possible predictors for the presence of alexithymia in patients with depressive disorders, including the seven subscales of the SRI, gender, age, and duration of illness. We found that aggressive and somatizing responses to stress were significantly associated with the presence of alexithymia among patients with depression.
These findings suggest that patients having depression with alexithymia were more susceptible to stress than those without alexithymia. Clinicians might improve their treatment of depression by identifying the clinical predictors for alexithymia and by helping those individuals demonstrating such symptoms in coping with emotionally stressful situations.
PMCID: PMC2796034  PMID: 20046368
Alexithymia; Depression; Stress
21.  The Relationship of Alexithymia to Emotional Dysregulation Within an Alcohol Dependent Treatment Sample 
Addictive Behaviors  2011;37(4):469-476.
Difficulties regulating emotions have implications for the development, maintenance, and recovery from alcohol problems. One construct thought to impede the regulation of emotion is alexithymia. Alexithymia is characterized by difficulties identifying, differentiating and expressing feelings, a limited imagination and fantasy life, and an externally-oriented thinking style (e.g., prefer talking about daily activities rather than feelings). Given that poor emotion regulation skills have been found to predict posttreatment levels of alcohol use, and that several defining characteristics of alexithymia bear similarity to deficits in emotion regulation skills, it is possible that alexithymia may predict poorer alcohol treatment outcomes. Thus, the present study first examined the relationship of alexithymia to several other emotion regulation measures and then investigated the impact of alexithymia on attrition and alcohol treatment outcomes in men and women (N = 77) enrolled in a 12-week cognitive-behavioral intervention for alcohol dependence. At baseline, higher scores on alexithymia were associated poorer emotion regulation skills, fewer percent days abstinent, greater alcohol dependence severity, and several high-risk drinking situations. Alexithymia was unrelated to attrition and to level of alcohol consumption at posttreatment. Overall, the construct of alexithymia is shown to be related to several theoretically-related constructs (e.g., emotion regulation, mindfulness) but demonstrated a limited relationship to drinking outcomes in those seeking treatment for alcohol dependence.
PMCID: PMC3288528  PMID: 22244705
Alexithymia; affect regulation; alcohol use disorder; emotion regulation; mindfulness
22.  Dissecting empathy: high levels of psychopathic and autistic traits are characterized by difficulties in different social information processing domains 
Individuals with psychopathy or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can behave in ways that suggest lack of empathy towards others. However, many different cognitive and affective processes may lead to unempathic behavior and the social processing profiles of individuals with high psychopathic vs. ASD traits are likely different. Whilst psychopathy appears characterized by problems with resonating with others’ emotions, ASD appears characterized by problems with cognitive perspective-taking. In addition, alexithymia has previously been associated with both disorders, but the contribution of alexithymia needs further exploration. In a community sample (N = 110) we show for the first time that although affective resonance and cognitive perspective-taking are related, high psychopathic traits relate to problems with resonating with others’ emotions, but not cognitive perspective taking. Conversely, high ASD traits relate to problems with cognitive perspective-taking but not resonating with others’ emotions. Alexithymia was associated with problems with affective resonance independently of psychopathic traits, suggesting that different component processes (reduced tendency to feel what others feel and reduced ability to identify and describe feelings) comprise affective resonance. Alexithymia was not associated with the reduced cognitive perspective-taking in high ASD traits. Our data suggest that (1) elevated psychopathic and ASD traits are characterized by difficulties in different social information processing domains and (2) reduced affective resonance in individuals with elevated psychopathic traits and the reduced cognitive perspective taking in individuals with elevated ASD traits are not explained by co-occurring alexithymia. (3) Alexithymia is independently associated with reduced affective resonance. Consequently, our data point to different component processes within the construct of empathy that are suggestive of partially separable cognitive and neural systems.
PMCID: PMC3826592  PMID: 24294197
psychopathy; autism spectrum disorder; alexithymia; empathy; affective resonance; cognitive perspective-taking
23.  The relationship between alexithymia, shame, trauma, and body image disorders: investigation over a large clinical sample 
The connections between eating disorders (EDs) and alexithymia have not been fully clarified. This study aims to define alexithymia’s connections with shame, trauma, dissociation, and body image disorders.
We administered the Dissociative Experience Scale-II, Trauma Symptom Inventory, Experience of Shame Scale, Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20, and Body Uneasiness Test questionnaires to 143 ED subjects. Extensive statistical analyses were performed.
The subjects showed higher scores on alexithymia, shame, dissociation, and traumatic feelings scales than the nonclinical population. These aspects are linked with each other in a statistically significant way. Partial correlations highlighted that feelings of shame are correlated to body dissatisfaction, irrespective of trauma or depressed mood. Multiple regression analysis demonstrates that shame (anorexic patients) and perceived traumatic conditions (bulimic and ED not otherwise specified) are associated with adverse image disorders.
Shame seems to hold a central role in the perception of an adverse self-image. Alexithymia may be interpreted as being a consequence of previous unelaborated traumatic experiences and feelings of shame, and it could therefore be conceptualized as a maladaptive–reactive construct.
PMCID: PMC3579461  PMID: 23550168
eating disorders; trauma; alexithymia; shame; body image
24.  Cognitive Alexithymia Is Associated with the Degree of Risk for Psychosis 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0124803.
Alexithymia is a personality construct denoting emotion processing problems. It has been suggested to encompass two dimensions: a cognitive and affective dimension. The cognitive dimension is characterized by difficulties in identifying, verbalizing and analyzing emotions, while the affective dimension reflects the level of emotional arousal and imagination. Alexithymia has been previously proposed as a risk factor for developing psychosis. More specifically, the two alexithymia dimensions might be differentially related to the vulnerability for psychosis. Therefore, we examined the two dimensions of alexithymia, measured with the BVAQ in 94 siblings of patients with schizophrenia, 52 subjects at ultra-high risk (UHR) for developing psychosis, 38 patients with schizophrenia and 109 healthy controls. The results revealed that siblings and patients had higher levels of cognitive alexithymia compared to controls. In addition, subjects at UHR for psychosis had even higher levels of cognitive alexithymia compared to the siblings. The levels of affective alexithymia in siblings and patients were equal to controls. However, UHR individuals had significantly lower levels of affective alexithymia (i.e. higher levels of emotional arousal and fantasizing) compared to controls. Alexithymia was further related to subclinical levels of negative and depressive symptoms. These findings indicate that alexithymia varies parametrically with the degree of risk for psychosis. More specifically, a type-II alexithymia pattern, with high levels of cognitive alexithymia and normal or low levels of affective alexithymia, might be a vulnerability factor for psychosis.
PMCID: PMC4451258  PMID: 26030357
25.  The association of interoceptive awareness and alexithymia with neurotransmitter concentrations in insula and anterior cingulate 
Alexithymia and increased interoceptive awareness have been associated with affective disorders as well as with altered insula and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) function. Brain imaging studies have demonstrated an association between neurotransmitter function and affective disorders as well as personality traits. Here, we first examined the relationship between alexithymic facets as assessed with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and interoceptive awareness (assessed with the Body Perception Questionnaire) in 18 healthy subjects. Second, we investigated their association with glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) concentrations in the left insula and the ACC using 3-Tesla proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Behaviorally, we found a close association between alexithymia and interoceptive awareness. Furthermore, glutamate levels in the left insula were positively associated with both alexithymia and awareness of autonomic nervous system reactivity, while GABA concentrations in ACC were selectively associated with alexithymia. Although preliminary, our results suggest that increased glutamate-mediated excitatory transmission—related to enhanced insula activity—reflects increased interoceptive awareness in alexithymia. Suppression of the unspecific emotional arousal evoked by increased awareness of bodily responses in alexithymics might thus be reflected in decreased neuronal activity mediated by increased GABA concentration in ACC.
PMCID: PMC4040102  PMID: 23596189
alexithymia; interoceptive awareness; neurotransmitter; proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy

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