King's College London

Research portal

The role of alexithymia in social cognition: Evidence from a non-clinical population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Marialaura Di Tella, Mauro Adenzato, Caroline Catmur, Francesca Miti, Lorys Castelli, Rita B. Ardito

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-492
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 May 2020

King's Authors


Background: Alexithymia is a personality construct characterised by difficulty in identifying and describing one's emotions. We investigated whether people with alexithymia, who struggle with emotion-processing abilities, have diminished emotion-related social cognitive competencies, where social cognition encompasses the set of abilities that allows one to navigate one's social environment. Methods: We assessed alexithymia and four components of social cognition: recognition of others’ emotions, representation of others’ affective and cognitive mental states, empathy, and regulation of one's own feelings. We investigated whether alexithymia could significantly predict each of these components, beyond the effect of other individual difference variables (i.e., anxiety/depressive symptoms), which have been previously associated with both social cognition and alexithymia. Two hundred six participants were recruited. Multiple hierarchical regression analyses were performed to assess the possible relationships between alexithymia and social cognition skills. Results: Alexithymia significantly predicted emotion recognition, empathy, and emotional regulation, even after controlling for the effect of potentially competing factors (i.e., anxiety/depressive symptoms). Alexithymia did not predict representation of others’ affective and cognitive mental states. Limitations: The present study adopted a cross-sectional design, which does not permit us to draw firm conclusions about the causality of the emergent relationships. Conclusions: These data provide support for the argument that recognising others’ emotions and feelings relies on the ability to identify correctly one's own feelings. Our results also indicate the importance of taking into consideration individual differences in levels of alexithymia when investigating social cognition in non-clinical populations, as alexithymia appears to be clearly related to social cognitive functioning.

View graph of relations

© 2018 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454