The neurocognition of alexithymia: evidence from neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies

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Abstract

Objective:

Alexithymia refers to an ineffective regulation and expression of emotions. It constitutes a major risk factor for a range of medical and psychiatric problems, including chronic pain, somatisation, anxiety and depression. Alexithymia is a multi-faceted concept, described in terms of cognitive and affective aspects. From a neuropsychological perspective, alexithymia can be defined as a disturbance in affective information processing and social cognition. As the growing literature on brain structures involved in alexithymia is fragmented and sometimes even contradictory, the aim of this article was to review findings on neural substrates with regard to their convergence.

Methods:

A narrative review was performed, including both early neuropsychological and more recent imaging studies, in order to achieve a better understanding of the aetiology of alexithymia.

Results:

Corpus callosum, cingulate cortex and insula are clearly involved in alexithymia. The amygdala and the orbitofrontal part of the cortex appear to be implicated as mediators, because of their broader involvement in emotional processing and executive control.

Conclusion:

Notwithstanding the diffuse neural representation, the alexithymia construct can be usefully applied in the clinical and empirical studies of social cognition, particularly when adopting a dimensional neuropsychological approach.

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