Alexithymia and Physiological Reactivity to Emotion-Provoking Visual Scenes

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Abstract

Alexithymia, a syndrome that involves a marked inability to name feelings, has been linked to psychosomatic illness. This study addressed the question of whether alexithymic tendencies are related to heightened levels of autonomic response to extrinsic cues. Alexithymia was assessed with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale and by the emotional content of stories written to five TAT-like printed pictures. Seventy-two college students were exposed to a series of emotion-provoking slides while their heart rates and electrodermal responses were recorded. Results indicated a trend for alexithymic tendencies to be associated with less heart rate increase and fewer electrodermal responses while viewing the slides. Alexithymia was also associated with a small but significant elevation in baseline heart, rate. These findings are discussed as part of a pattern of results which calls into question the hypothesis that alexithymia is related to illness because it produces hyperarousal to situational stressors; it is suggested that future research on the relationship between alexithymia and health status should be broadened to explore health-maintenance behaviors and other possible mechanisms.

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