Alexithymia in Men? An Electrophysiological Investigation of Emotional Processing

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Psychonomics Society Annual Meeting 2016


The Normative Male Alexithymia Hypothesis proposes that men may have more difficulty in displaying emotion—especially vulnerable emotions such as fear (Levant, 1992).  Specifically, Alexithymics may exhibit emotional recognition deficits—especially for angry faces (hypothesized to arouse fear) relative to happy faces.  Also, early repression (unconscious avoidance) and later suppression (conscious avoidance) loci were assessed using P1 and P3 (measured 100-200 and 400-700 ms after stimulus presentation, respectively) event-related potentials (ERPs). We tested 15 male subjects who scored above the90th percentile rank on the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), and 15 male controls with average scores, on a facial emotion recognition task (happy, angry or neutral ).  The ERP results indicated that individuals who scored high on the TAS-20 showed significantly lower P1 and P3 amplitudes on all emotional faces than those individuals who scored in the average range.  Also, the control group showed relatively higher amplitudes for negatively valenced stimuli than for neutral stimuli, whereas the “Alexithymic” group showed the reverse trend.  This suggests that Alexithymic symptomology may stem from both early (perceptual) and later (cognitive) inhibition of vulnerable emotions.


Elliott Jardin, Philip A. Allen, Ronald F. Levant, Mei-Ching Lien, Erik McCurdy, Anthony Villalba, James R. Houston