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Alexithymic features and the labeling of brief emotional facial expressions - An fMRI study


Ihme, Klas; Sacher, Julia; Lichev, Vladimir; Rosenberg, Nicole; Kugel, Harald; Rufer, Michael; Grabe, Hans-Jörgen; Pampel, André; Lepsien, Jöran; Kersting, Anette; Villringer, Arno; Lane, Richard D; Suslow, Thomas (2014). Alexithymic features and the labeling of brief emotional facial expressions - An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia, 64:289-299.

Abstract

The ability to recognize subtle facial expressions can be valuable in social interaction to infer emotions and intentions of others. Research has shown that the personality trait of alexithymia is linked to difficulties labeling facial expressions especially when these are presented with temporal constraints. The present study investigates the neural mechanisms underlying this deficit. 50 young healthy volunteers had to label briefly presented (≤100ms) emotional (happy, angry, fearful) facial expressions masked by a neutral expression while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A multi-method approach (20-Item Toronto Alexithymia Scale and Toronto Structured Interview for Alexithymia) was administered to assess alexithymic tendencies. Behavioral results point to a global deficit of alexithymic individuals in labeling brief facial expressions. Alexithymia was related to decreased response of the ventral striatum to negative facial expressions. Moreover, alexithymia was associated with lowered activation in frontal, temporal and occipital cortices. Our data suggest that alexithymic individuals have difficulties in creating appropriate representations of the emotional state of other persons under temporal constraints. These deficiencies could lead to problems in labeling other people׳s facial emotions.

Abstract

The ability to recognize subtle facial expressions can be valuable in social interaction to infer emotions and intentions of others. Research has shown that the personality trait of alexithymia is linked to difficulties labeling facial expressions especially when these are presented with temporal constraints. The present study investigates the neural mechanisms underlying this deficit. 50 young healthy volunteers had to label briefly presented (≤100ms) emotional (happy, angry, fearful) facial expressions masked by a neutral expression while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A multi-method approach (20-Item Toronto Alexithymia Scale and Toronto Structured Interview for Alexithymia) was administered to assess alexithymic tendencies. Behavioral results point to a global deficit of alexithymic individuals in labeling brief facial expressions. Alexithymia was related to decreased response of the ventral striatum to negative facial expressions. Moreover, alexithymia was associated with lowered activation in frontal, temporal and occipital cortices. Our data suggest that alexithymic individuals have difficulties in creating appropriate representations of the emotional state of other persons under temporal constraints. These deficiencies could lead to problems in labeling other people׳s facial emotions.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:2 October 2014
Deposited On:14 Jan 2015 12:15
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 18:44
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0028-3932
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.09.044
PubMed ID:25281889

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