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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(1):62-72.

Cognitive and psychosocial correlates of alexithymia following traumatic brain injury.

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Changes in emotional and social behaviour are considered to be amongst the most common and debilitating consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Little is known of the effects of TBI on alexithymia, which refers to impairment in aspects of understanding emotions. In the current study TBI patients (N=28) were compared with demographically matched healthy controls (N=31) on the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (TAS-20), a measure that taps three distinct characteristics of the alexithymia concept; difficulty in identifying emotions, difficulty in describing emotions and externally oriented thinking. Patients and controls also completed measures of anxiety, depression, quality of life, and measures of fluency to assess executive function. Patients showed greater levels of alexithymia, in terms of difficulty identifying emotions and reduced introspection. Difficulty in identifying emotions was associated with poorer quality of life, even when depression and anxiety were controlled. Difficulty in identifying emotions was also uniquely associated with executive function deficits. Thus, although studies typically focus on aspects of cognitive change following head injury, these results lend support to Becerra et al.'s (Becerra, R., Amos, A., & Jongenelis, S. (2002). Organic alexithymia: a study of acquired emotional blindness. Brain Injury, 16, 633-645.) notion of an 'organic alexithymia', and suggest that more attention should be focused upon assessment of emotional change post-head injury.

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