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Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation:
doi: 10.1097/HTR.0b013e31827fb0b5
Original Articles

Relationships Between Alexithymia, Affect Recognition, and Empathy After Traumatic Brain Injury

Neumann, Dawn PhD; Zupan, Barbra PhD; Malec, James F. PhD; Hammond, Flora MD

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Abstract

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.

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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