Alexithymia in Men: How and When Do Emotional Processing Deficiencies Occur?

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Abstract

The present study extended existing research on alexithymia in men, investigating whether the deficit in processing emotions occurs early in the process, as a result of dissociation or repression, or later, as a result of suppression. We also examined the assumption in R. F. Levant's (2011, Research in the psychology of men and masculinity using the gender role strain paradigm as a framework. American Psychologist, 66, 765–776) normative male alexithymia hypothesis that men with alexithymia would show the greatest deficits in identifying words for emotions discouraged by masculine norms that expressed vulnerability and attachment. Study 1, with 258 college men, showed that scores on measures of alexithymia and normative male alexithymia were more strongly and uniquely predicted by suppression than repression and dissociation, while controlling for positive and negative affect and depression. Study 2 used semantic priming with 85 college men and revealed that men with alexithymia showed more errors in lexical decision performance using target emotion words discouraged by masculine norms compared with men without alexithymia. In addition, men with and without alexithymia did not differ in their accuracy using target emotion words that are encouraged by masculine norms. We also found that the disruption in emotional processing among men with alexithymia occurred at 500-ms stimulus onset asynchrony, which is slow enough for conscious processing, supporting an explanation of suppression as the mechanism for the inhibition.

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