Research Reports - Relationships between alexithymia, affect recognition, and empathy after traumatic brain injury

J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2014 Jan-Feb;29(1):E18-27

Neumann D, Zupan B, Malec JF, Hammond F

OBJECTIVES: To determine (1) alexithymia, affect recognition, and empathy
differences in participants with and without traumatic brain injury (TBI); (2)
the amount of affect recognition variance explained by alexithymia; and (3) the
amount of empathy variance explained by alexithymia and affect recognition.
PARTICIPANTS: Sixty adults with moderate-to-severe TBI; 60 age and gender-matched
controls.
PROCEDURES: Participants were evaluated for alexithymia (difficulty identifying
feelings, difficulty describing feelings, and externally-oriented thinking);
facial and vocal affect recognition; and affective and cognitive empathy
(empathic concern and perspective-taking, respectively).
RESULTS: Participants with TBI had significantly higher alexithymia; poorer
facial and vocal affect recognition; and lower empathy scores. For TBI
participants, facial and vocal affect recognition variances were significantly
explained by alexithymia (12% and 8%, respectively); however, the majority of the
variances were accounted for by externally-oriented thinking alone. Affect
recognition and alexithymia significantly accounted for 16.5% of cognitive
empathy. Again, the majority of the variance was primarily explained by
externally-oriented thinking. Affect recognition and alexithymia did not explain
affective empathy.
CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that people who have a tendency to avoid thinking
about emotions (externally-oriented thinking) are more likely to have problems
recognizing others' emotions and assuming others' points of view. Clinical
implications are discussed.

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