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R Soc Open Sci. 2016 Oct 12;3(10):150664. eCollection 2016 Oct.

Alexithymia: a general deficit of interoception.

Author information

1
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London SE5 8AF, UK; School of Psychology, University of East London, University Way, London E16 2RD.
2
Department of Psychology , City University London , London EC1V OHB , UK.
3
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London SE5 8AF, UK; Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London WC1N 3AR, UK.

Abstract

Alexithymia is a sub-clinical construct, traditionally characterized by difficulties identifying and describing one's own emotions. Despite the clear need for interoception (interpreting physical signals from the body) when identifying one's own emotions, little research has focused on the selectivity of this impairment. While it was originally assumed that the interoceptive deficit in alexithymia is specific to emotion, recent evidence suggests that alexithymia may also be associated with difficulties perceiving some non-affective interoceptive signals, such as one's heart rate. It is therefore possible that the impairment experienced by those with alexithymia is common to all aspects of interoception, such as interpreting signals of hunger, arousal, proprioception, tiredness and temperature. In order to determine whether alexithymia is associated with selectively impaired affective interoception, or general interoceptive impairment, we investigated the association between alexithymia and self-reported non-affective interoceptive ability, and the extent to which individuals perceive similarity between affective and non-affective states (both measured using questionnaires developed for the purpose of the current study), in both typical individuals (n = 105 (89 female), mean age = 27.5 years) and individuals reporting a diagnosis of a psychiatric condition (n = 103 (83 female), mean age = 31.3 years). Findings indicated that alexithymia was associated with poor non-affective interoception and increased perceived similarity between affective and non-affective states, in both the typical and clinical populations. We therefore suggest that rather than being specifically associated with affective impairment, alexithymia is better characterized by a general failure of interoception.

KEYWORDS:

alexithymia; emotion; interoception

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