Alexithymia: Its prevalence and correlates in a British undergraduate sample

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Introduction.Alexithymia is characterized by a difficulty identifying and describing emotional states, as well as an externally oriented thinking style. This study investigated the prevalence of alexithymia in a British undergraduate sample and assesses its relationship to both parental bonding and dissociation.Method.The Toronto alexithymia scale (TAS-20), the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI), and the Dissociative Experience Scale (DES) were administered to a sample of 181 male and 190 female undergraduate students from both arts and science subjects.Results.Rates of alexithymia were comparable with those observed in some other countries. Contrary to predictions, females were found to have higher rates than males, and the highest presence of alexithymia was in female science students. As in previous studies, alexithymia was linked to both dissociation and perceptions of a lack of maternal care, though the degree of association to the latter was small. Dissociative experiences were predicted by both maternal overprotection and difficulties identifying feelings.Discussion.Some qualified support was found for the relevance of early maternal bonding to later difficulties processing emotions. The presence of greater alexithymia in females, and female science students in particular, was discussed in reference to similar observations elsewhere. There was also an understandable relationship between ‘difficulty identifying feelings’ (TAS) and both depersonalization/derealization and absorption (DES).

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