Alexithymia Is Associated With a Multidomain, Multidimensional Failure of Interoception: Evidence From Novel Tests

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Abstract

Interoception, the perception of the body’s internal state, contributes to numerous aspects of higher-order cognition. Several theories suggest a causal role for atypical interoception in specific psychiatric disorders, including a recent claim that atypical interoception represents a transdiagnostic impairment across disorders characterized by reduced perception of one’s own emotion (alexithymia). Such theories are supported predominantly by evidence from only one interoceptive domain (cardiac); however, evidence of domain-specific interoceptive ability highlights the need to assess interoception in noncardiac domains. Using novel interoceptive tasks, we demonstrate that individuals high in alexithymic traits show a reduced propensity to utilize interoceptive cues to gauge respiratory output (Experiment 1), reduced accuracy on tasks of muscular effort (Experiment 2), and taste sensitivity (Experiment 3), unrelated to any co-occurring autism, depression, or anxiety. Results suggest that alexithymia reflects a multidomain, multidimensional failure of interoception, which is consistent with theories suggesting that atypical interoception may underpin both symptom commonalities between psychiatric disorders and heterogeneity within disorders.

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