Academic journal article Studia Psychologica

Recognition of Emotional Facial Expressions in Alexithymia

Academic journal article Studia Psychologica

Recognition of Emotional Facial Expressions in Alexithymia

Article excerpt

The term Alexithymia (from Greek: lack of words for emotions), refers to a specific disturbance in affective-emotional processing that is manifested through the following salient features: 1) difficulty in identifying and describing feelings and emotions verbally, 2) difficulty in distinguishing between feelings and somatic sensations that accompany emotional arousal, and 3) externally-oriented thinking and impaired symbolic activity (Taylor & Bagby, 2004). The most recent research has stressed the point that in alexithymia there is not only a difficulty in expressing emotions verbally but also a deficit in the cognitive processing of emotions (Berenbaum & Prince, 1994; Jessimer & Markham, 1997; Lundh & Simonsson-Sarnecki, 2002; Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 1993; Roedema & Simons, 1999; Suslow, 1998; Suslow & Junghanns, 2002); as a consequence, emotions remain undifferentiated and poorly regulated (Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1991) and those afflicted are more likely to misinterpret their emotions as being symptoms of illness (Taylor & Bagby, 2004).

First studied in classical psychosomatic or somatic disorders, alexithymia is known today as a personality trait (Martínez-Sánchez, Ato, Córcoles, Huedo, & Selva, 1998; MartínezSánchez, Ato, & Ortiz, 2003), normally distributed in the general population with significantly higher levels in male subjects (Franz et al., 2008; Schimmenti, 2016). A high level of alexithymia is considered as a possible vulnerability factor for a variety of psychiatric disorders and physical illnesses (Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1997), such as substance use disorders, somatization, anxiety and depression, and even schizophrenia (Lumley, Neely, & Burger, 2007).

Alexithymics appear to be less able to recognize their emotion signals and regulate emotions effectively (Taylor et al., 1997). Several studies demonstrated that alexithymic individuals are impaired in their ability to recognize emotion when both the stimulus and the response are non-verbal, suggesting that alexithymia, "the lack of words for emotion", is not just a verbal phenomenon. Several authors hypothesized that hampered regulation of emotion in alexithymia might be based on deficits in the perception and further processing of emotional stimuli (Aleman, 2005; Martínez-Sánchez, Montero, & de la Cerra, 2002; Lane, Sechrest, Reidel, Shapiro, & Kaszniak, 2000). This statement has been empirically supported by imaging data (Kano et al., 2003; Mantani, Okamoto, Shirao, Okada, & Yamawaki, 2005; Moriguchi et al., 2006) and event-related potentials (Pollatos & Gramann, 2011).

One of the most fruitful areas of investigation that has occupied the investigation of alexithymia is the study of the patterns of recognition of facial expressions of emotion. It is well established that facial emotion recognition has an important place in emotion regulation, interpersonal communication skills, and in the development of psycho-pathologies (Öztürk, Kiliç, Deveci, & Kirpinar, 2016).

In this line, previous studies have shown a significant correlation between alexithymia and a lack of ability to recognize emotions in photographs of facial expressions (Allerdings, 1997; Lane et al., 1996, 2000; Mann, Wise, Trinidad, & Kohanski, 1994; McDonald & Prkachin, 1990; Pandey & Mandal, 1997; Parker et al., 1993; Parker, Prkachin, & Prkachin, 2005; Prkachin, Casey, & Prkachin, 2009). These deficits have been found with tasks in which participants were required to reply in a very short period of time (Pedrosa et al., 2009), as well as in those with masked stimuli to make it difficult to recognize them (Kugel et al., 2008; Reker et al., 2010), and with static emotional stimuli, such as FACS, and dynamic videos (Kätsyri, Saalasti, Tiippana, von Wendt, & Sams, 2008; Ridout, Thomas, & Wallis, 2010) (for a review, see Grynberg et al., 2012).

Despite the interest in studying the relationship between alexithymia and emotion recognition, there are only a few studies addressing the role of alexithymia in facial recognition tasks with parts of the face, such as the work of Swart, Kortekaas, and Aleman (2009) and Schimmenti (2016). …

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