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Alexithymia and the labeling of facial emotions: Response slowing and increased motor and somatosensory processing

MPS-Authors
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Sacher,  Julia
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Clinic for Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany;

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Pampel,  André
Methods and Development Unit Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Lepsien,  Jöran
Methods and Development Unit Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Villringer,  Arno
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Clinic for Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany;

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Ihme_2014.pdf
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Citation

Ihme, K., Sacher, J., Lichev, V., Rosenberg, N., Kugel, H., Rufer, M., et al. (2014). Alexithymia and the labeling of facial emotions: Response slowing and increased motor and somatosensory processing. BMC Neuroscience, 15: 40. doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-40.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0019-C17D-4
Abstract
Background Alexithymia is a personality trait that is characterized by difficulties in identifying and describing feelings. Previous studies have shown that alexithymia is related to problems in recognizing others’ emotional facial expressions when these are presented with temporal constraints. These problems can be less severe when the expressions are visible for a relatively long time. Because the neural correlates of these recognition deficits are still relatively unexplored, we investigated the labeling of facial emotions and brain responses to facial emotions as a function of alexithymia. Results Forty-eight healthy participants had to label the emotional expression (angry, fearful, happy, or neutral) of faces presented for 1 or 3 seconds in a forced-choice format while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The participants’ level of alexithymia was assessed using self-report and interview. In light of the previous findings, we focused our analysis on the alexithymia component of difficulties in describing feelings. Difficulties describing feelings, as assessed by the interview, were associated with increased reaction times for negative (i.e., angry and fearful) faces, but not with labeling accuracy. Moreover, individuals with higher alexithymia showed increased brain activation in the somatosensory cortex and supplementary motor area (SMA) in response to angry and fearful faces. These cortical areas are known to be involved in the simulation of the bodily (motor and somatosensory) components of facial emotions. Conclusion The present data indicate that alexithymic individuals may use information related to bodily actions rather than affective states to understand the facial expressions of other persons.