Refugees commonly experience difficulties with emotional processing, such as alexithymia, due to stressful or traumatic experiences. However, the functional connectivity of the amygdala, which is central to emotional processing, has yet to be assessed in refugees. Thus, the present study investigated the resting-state functional connectivity of the amygdala and its association with emotional processing in North Korean (NK) refugees.
This study included 45 NK refugees and 40 native South Koreans (SK). All participants were administered the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinician-administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), and differences between NK refugees and native SK in terms of resting-state functional connectivity of the amygdala were assessed. Additionally, the association between the strength of amygdala connectivity and the TAS score was examined.
Resting-state connectivity values from the left amygdala to the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) were higher in NK refugees than in native SK. Additionally, the strength of connectivity between the left amygdala and right dlPFC was positively associated with TAS score after controlling for the number of traumatic experiences and BDI and CAPS scores.
The present study found that NK refugees exhibited heightened frontal–amygdala connectivity, and that this connectivity was correlated with alexithymia. The present results suggest that increased frontal–amygdala connectivity in refugees may represent frontal down-regulation of the amygdala, which in turn may produce alexithymia.