Emotion processing deficits in alexithymia and response to a depth of processing intervention
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Findings on alexithymic emotion difficulties have been inconsistent. We examined potential differences between alexithymic and control participants in general arousal, reactivity, facial and subjective expression, emotion labeling, and covariation between emotion response systems. A depth of processing intervention was introduced. Fifty-four participants (27 alexithymic), selected using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20, completed an imagery experiment (imagining joy, fear and neutral scripts), under instructions for shallow or deep emotion processing. Heart rate, skin conductance, facial electromyography and startle reflex were recorded along with subjective ratings. Results indicated hypo-reactivity to emotion among high alexithymic individuals, smaller and slower startle responses, and low covariation between physiology and self-report. No deficits in facial expression, labeling and emotion ratings were identified. Deep processing was associated with increased physiological reactivity and lower perceived dominance and arousal in high alexithymia. Findings suggest a tendency for avoidance of intense, unpleasant emotions and less defensive action preparation in alexithymia. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.