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Furthering the language hypothesis of alexithymia: An integrated review and meta-analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Ka Shu Lee, Jennifer Murphy, Caroline Catmur, Geoffrey Bird, Hannah Hobson

Original languageEnglish
Article number104864
JournalNeuroscience and biobehavioral reviews
Early online date14 Sep 2022
Accepted/In press4 Sep 2022
E-pub ahead of print14 Sep 2022
PublishedOct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: GB was supported by the Baily Thomas Trust. The funding source was not involved in the conduct of the research and/or preparation of the article. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors


King's Authors


Alexithymia, including the inability to identify and express one's own feelings, is a subclinical condition responsible for some of the socioemotional symptoms seen across a range of psychiatric conditions. The language hypothesis of alexithymia posits a language-mediated disruption in the development of discrete emotion concepts from ambiguous affective states, exacerbating the risk of developing alexithymia in language-impaired individuals. To provide a critical evaluation, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 29 empirical studies of language functioning in alexithymia was performed. A modest association was found between alexithymia and multi-domain language deficits (r = −0.14), including structural language, pragmatics, and propensity to use emotional language. A more theoretically-relevant subsample analysis comparing alexithymia levels in language-impaired and typical individuals revealed larger effects, but a limited number of studies adopted this approach. A synthesis of 11 emotional granularity studies also found an association between alexithymia and reduced emotional granularity (r = −0.10). Language impairments seem to increase the risk of alexithymia. Heterogeneous samples and methods suggest the need for studies with improved alexithymia assessments.

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