Previous research has demonstrated a deficit in the ability to recognize emotions in alexithymic individuals. The repressive coping style is thought to preferentially impair the detection of unpleasant compared with pleasant emotions, and the degree of deficit is typically thought to be less severe than in alexithymia. We compared emotion recognition ability in both individuals with alexithymia and those with the repressive coping style.
Three hundred seventy-nine subjects completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale, the Marlowe-Crowne Scale (a measure of repressive defensiveness), the Bendig Short Form of the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale, and the Perception of Affect Task. The Perception of Affect Task consists of four 35-item emotion recognition subtasks: matching sentences and words, faces and words, sentences and faces, and faces and photographs of scenes. The stimuli in each subtask consist of seven emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise, and neutral) depicted five times each. Recognition accuracy results were collapsed across subtasks within each emotion category.
Highly alexithymic subjects (for all, p < .01) and those with low emotional awareness (for all, p < .001) were consistently less accurate in emotion recognition in all seven categories. Highly defensive subjects (including repressors) were less accurate in the detection of anger, sadness, fear, and happiness (for all, p < .05). Furthermore, scores on the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale accounted for significantly more variance in performance on the Perception of Affect Task than scores on the Marlowe-Crowne Scale (p < .01).
The results indicate that alexithymia and the repressive coping style are each associated with impairments in the recognition of both pleasant and unpleasant emotions and that the two styles of emotional self-regulation differ more in the magnitude than in the quality of these impairments.
From the Departments of Psychiatry (R.D.L., D.E.S., A.W.K.) and Psychology (R.D.L., L.S., D.E.S., A.W.K.), University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and Department of Psychology (R.R.), Troy State University, Troy, AL.
Received for publication February 19, 1999;
revision received December 16, 1999.
Address reprint requests to: Richard D. Lane, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry; P.O. Box 245002, Tucson, AZ 85724-5002. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org