中華心理學刊 民 112，65 卷，2 期，163-186
Chinese Journal of Psychology 2023, Vol.65, No.2, 163-186
Shu-Hui Lee(Center for General Education, National Tsing Hua University; Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, National Tsing Hua University)
Alexithymia has been identified as a risk factor for a variety of psychiatric disorders and physical and mental health problems. Moreover, alexithymics often exhibit maladaptive coping strategies when addressing interpersonal problems, which can damage their subjective well-being. To date, the neural basis of alexithymics’ cognitive bias in processing emotions is unclear. Additionally, it remains unknown whether this neural basis of coping with emotion is associated with their ability to communicate and empathize with others. Thus, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural correlates of alexithymics’ emotional coping styles in an emotional semantic judgment task. Emotional valence (positive, negative, neutral) and association strength (strong, weak) were independently varied to study emotional semantic processing. Participants were asked to decide whether two emotional words presented in Chinese were related in meaning. The social functioning questionnaires further evaluated their social communication performance and empathetic abilities. First, compared to individuals with low alexithymia (LA), those with high alexithymia (HA) exhibited lower activation in the amygdala and precuneus in response to negative related pairs than neutral related pairs when the association was weak, reflecting the early avoidance of perceiving negative information. Additionally, the early prioritization of both positive and negative emotions enabled quick responses and required less involvement of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and middle temporal gyrus (MTG) in individuals with HA in judging the meaning when the association was weak. Moreover, frontotemporal activation in response to unpleasant stimuli was correlated with abilities to socialize/empathize with others, which suggests that early vigilance to emotional cues may cause individuals with HA to avoid unpleasant social situations, such as self-disclosure, potentially hindering their abilities to socially interact. In summary, the cognitive bias of early avoidance may bring temporary relief by allowing individuals to escape from social interactions, but, ultimately, this damages well-being.
Keywords: alexithymia, cognitive bias, emotion, semantic, social functioning