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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Sep;37(8):1774-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.07.008. Epub 2013 Jul 22.

Neural correlates of alexithymia: a meta-analysis of emotion processing studies.

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Neuroimaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, Antonius Deusinglaan 2, 9713 AW Groningen, The Netherlands. Electronic address:


Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by difficulties in the experience and cognitive processing of emotions. It is considered a risk factor for a range of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Functional neuroimaging studies investigating the neural correlates of alexithymia have reported inconsistent results. To integrate previous findings, we conducted a parametric coordinate-based meta-analysis including fifteen neuroimaging studies on emotion processing in alexithymia. During the processing of negative emotional stimuli, alexithymia was associated with a diminished response of the amygdala, suggesting decreased attention to such stimuli. Negative stimuli additionally elicited decreased activation in supplementary motor and premotor brain areas and in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, possibly underlying poor empathic abilities and difficulties in emotion regulation associated with alexithymia. Positive stimuli elicited decreased activation in the right insula and precuneus, suggesting reduced emotional awareness in alexithymia regarding positive affect. Independent of valence, higher (presumably compensatory) activation was found in the dorsal anterior cingulate possibly indicating increased cognitive demand. These results suggest valence-specific as well as valence-independent effects of alexithymia on the neural processing of emotions.


Alexithymia; Amygdala; Brain; Cingulate; Emotion; Fusiform gyrus; Insula; Meta-analysis; Mirror neuron system; Neuroimaging; Precuneus

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