The relationship between Alexithymia and Theory of Mind: A systematic review

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Abstract

Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to represent the mental states of oneself and others, is an essential social skill disrupted across many psychiatric conditions. The transdiagnostic nature of ToM impairment means it is plausible that ToM impairment is related to alexithymia (difficulties identifying and describing one's own emotions), as alexithymia is seen across psychiatric conditions. Whilst many studies have examined links between alexithymia and ToM, results are mixed. Therefore, the purpose of this systematic review is to provide a taxonomy of ToM tests and assess their relationship with alexithymia. Tests are grouped according to whether they assess propensity to engage spontaneously in ToM or accuracy of ToM inferences, with tests further subdivided into those that do, and do not, require emotion recognition. A review of 63 suitable studies suggests that alexithymia is often associated with reduced ToM, and inaccurate ToM when tasks require emotion recognition. This latter finding appears due to impaired emotion recognition, rather than ToM impairment per se. Further directions and considerations for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-524
Number of pages28
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume131
Early online date29 Sept 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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