Alexithymia: Conceptual clarification and connections with psychological impairments

10/2013–9/2016 / Project Head: Prof. Dr. Konrad Schnabel

Cooperation Partner: Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. med. Olga Pollatos, Ulm University

Project Description
Alexithymia or emotional blindness is typically characterised by difficulties in experiencing and describing one's own feelings. People with alexithymia thus manage to recognise their emotional state in a respective situation only to an insufficient extent. This results in wide-ranging connections with differing psychological impairments, such as a problematic eating behaviour, substance abuse,  reduced capacity for empathy, lowered perception of the body's own processes and insufficient emotional regulation.

The approaches taken to date for recording differing degrees of alexithymia are aligned to a conceptualisation of the alexithymia construct which tends to be more broad-based and diffused and primarily utilises self-evaluation reporting with a, to some extent, unclear factorial validity. The ongoing project is investigating alternatives to conventional questionnaire-based processes and is perusing three main issues. 1) To what extent should the emotion-overlapping conceptualisation of alexithymia be abandoned in favour of emotion-specific variants? 2) Which recording options result from implicit processes? 3) Which connections are revealed with spontaneous and more unconscious expressions of emotions?

The answers to these research questions will permit an in-depth understanding of differing aspects connected to alexithymia. In this way, impairments can be analysed in a more differentiated manner when understanding one's own emotions and new approaches developed for accurate and tailored intervention.