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Alexithymia and automatic processing of facial emotions: behavioral and neural findings

Rosenberg, Nicole and Ihme, Klas and Lichev, Vladimir and Sacher, Julia and Rufer, Michael and Grabe, Hans Jörgen and Kugel, Harald and Pampel, André and Lepsien, Jöran and Kersting, Anette and Villringer, Arno and Suslow, Thomas (2020) Alexithymia and automatic processing of facial emotions: behavioral and neural findings. BMC Neuroscience, 21, pp. 1-13. Springer Nature. doi: 10.1186/s12868-020-00572-6. ISSN 1471-2202.

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Abstract

Background Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by difficulties identifying and describing feelings, an externally oriented style of thinking, and a reduced inclination to imagination. Previous research has shown deficits in the recognition of emotional facial expressions in alexithymia and reductions of brain responsivity to emotional stimuli. Using an affective priming paradigm, we investigated automatic perception of facial emotions as a function of alexithymia at the behavioral and neural level. In addition to self-report scales, we applied an interview to assess alexithymic tendencies. Results During 3 T fMRI scanning, 49 healthy individuals judged valence of neutral faces preceded by briefly shown happy, angry, fearful, and neutral facial expressions. Alexithymia was assessed using the 20-Item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ) and the Toronto Structured Interview for Alexithymia (TSIA). As expected, only negative correlations were found between alexithymic features and affective priming. The global level of self-reported alexithymia (as assessed by the TAS-20 and the BVAQ) was found to be related to less affective priming owing to angry faces. At the facet level, difficulties identifying feelings, difficulties analyzing feelings, and impoverished fantasy (as measured by the BVAQ) were correlated with reduced affective priming due to angry faces. Difficulties identifying feelings (BVAQ) correlated also with reduced affective priming due to fearful faces and reduced imagination (TSIA) was related to decreased affective priming due to happy faces. There was only one significant correlation between alexithymia dimensions and automatic brain response to masked facial emotions: TAS-20 alexithymia correlated with heightened brain response to masked happy faces in superior and medial frontal areas. Conclusions Our behavioral results provide evidence that alexithymic features are related in particular to less sensitivity for covert facial expressions of anger. The perceptual alterations could reflect impaired automatic recognition or integration of social anger signals into judgemental processes and might contribute to the problems in interpersonal relationships associated with alexithymia. Our findings suggest that self-report measures of alexithymia may have an advantage over interview-based tests as research tools in the field of emotion perception at least in samples of healthy individuals characterized by rather low levels of alexithymia.

Item URL in elib:https://elib.dlr.de/135408/
Document Type:Article
Title:Alexithymia and automatic processing of facial emotions: behavioral and neural findings
Authors:
AuthorsInstitution or Email of AuthorsAuthor's ORCID iD
Rosenberg, NicoleUniversität LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Ihme, KlasKlas.Ihme (at) dlr.dehttps://orcid.org/0000-0002-7911-3512
Lichev, VladimirUniversität LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Sacher, JuliaMPI CBS LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Rufer, MichaelUniversity Hospital ZurichUNSPECIFIED
Grabe, Hans JörgenUniversity Medicine of GreifswaldUNSPECIFIED
Kugel, HaraldUniversität MünsterUNSPECIFIED
Pampel, AndréMPI CBS LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Lepsien, JöranMPI CBS LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Kersting, AnetteUniversität LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Villringer, ArnoMPI CBS LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Suslow, ThomasUniversität LeipzigUNSPECIFIED
Date:29 May 2020
Journal or Publication Title:BMC Neuroscience
Refereed publication:Yes
Open Access:Yes
Gold Open Access:Yes
In SCOPUS:Yes
In ISI Web of Science:Yes
Volume:21
DOI :10.1186/s12868-020-00572-6
Page Range:pp. 1-13
Publisher:Springer Nature
ISSN:1471-2202
Status:Published
Keywords:Alexithmyia; Emotion Processing; Neuroscience; fMRI
HGF - Research field:Aeronautics, Space and Transport
HGF - Program:Transport
HGF - Program Themes:Road Transport
DLR - Research area:Transport
DLR - Program:V ST Straßenverkehr
DLR - Research theme (Project):V - NGC KoFiF
Location: Braunschweig
Institutes and Institutions:Institute of Transportation Systems > Human Factors
Deposited By: Ihme, Klas
Deposited On:30 Jun 2020 11:05
Last Modified:30 Jun 2020 11:05

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