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Alexithymia has been shown to be related to many psychiatric and somatic
illnesses. Aberrant emotion processing in the brain may underlie several
psychiatric disorders. However, little is known about the neurobiological
underpinnings of alexithymia.
To determine the way in which the brain processes emotion in
The participants were 10 healthy women with alexithymia and 11 healthy
women without this condition, recruited into the study on the basis of
their scores on the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale. Four films were
projected on a video screen to induce each of three emotional conditions
(neutral, amusement, sadness). The brain areas activated during emotional
stimuli in the alexithymia group were compared with those activated in
the non-alexithymia group. Scans of the distribution of
[15O]H2O were acquired using a positron emission
tomography (PET) scanner operated in three-dimensional mode.
In response to emotional stimuli participants with alexithymia activated
more parts of their sensory and motor cortices and insula, especially on
the left side, and less of their anterior cingulate, compared with the
Women with alexithymia seem to over-activate their ‘bodily’ brain
regions, implying a different mode of emotion processing. This may be
related to their tendency to experience physical symptoms.
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