Quadratic Relationship Between Alexithymia and Interoceptive Accuracy, and Results From a Pilot Mindfulness Intervention

Rachel V. Aaron, Scott D. Blain, Matthew A. Snodgress, Sohee Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Alexithymia, or a reduced ability to label and describe one's emotions, is a transdiagnostic construct associated with poor psychosocial outcomes. Currently, the mechanisms underlying affective deficits associated with alexithymia are unclear, hindering targeted treatment delivery. Recent research suggests deficient interoceptive awareness, or reduced awareness of one's internal bodily state, may be key in the etiology of alexithymia. It has long been demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can alter perceptions of one's own emotions and bodily cues. Therefore, it is possible that mindfulness meditation may reduce affective deficits associated with alexithymia by improving interoceptive awareness. In this study, we aimed to (1) elucidate the role of interoceptive accuracy and sensibility, two dimensions of interoceptive awareness, in alexithymia, and (2) test the efficacy of a brief mindfulness meditation for improving interoceptive accuracy, interoceptive sensibility, and emotional awareness. Seventy six young adults completed a baseline heartbeat detection task, to assess interoceptive accuracy and sensibility, and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale—20 item. They were randomly assigned to a brief mindfulness-based body scan meditation intervention or control condition. Afterwards, participants completed tasks assessing emotional awareness (i.e., affect labeling, emotional granularity) and follow-up heartbeat detection task. Relationships between alexithymia and interoceptive accuracy and sensibility were best described as quadratic (p = 0.002) and linear (p = 0.040), respectively. Participants in both conditions showed robust improvements in interoceptive accuracy from baseline to follow-up (p < 0.001;ηp2 ( = 0.15); however, there were no group (meditation or control) differences in degree of improvement. Similarly, there were no group differences in affect labeling or emotional granularity. These preliminary results suggest that heightened alexithymia may be associated with either relatively high or low interoceptive accuracy. The meditation condition did not result in improved interoceptive accuracy or sensibility above and beyond that of a control group. Improvements in interoceptive accuracy, interoceptive sensibility, and emotional awareness may require longer or more interactive intervention approaches. More research is needed to parse the potentially complex relationship between alexithymia and interoceptive awareness, and to develop targeted treatment approaches to ameliorating associated affective deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number132
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume11
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 10 2020

Keywords

  • affect labeling
  • alexithymia
  • emotional awareness
  • emotional granularity
  • interoception
  • interoceptive accuracy
  • interoceptive sensibility
  • mindfulness meditation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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