Cognitive-emotional processing in alexithymia: an integrative review

Olivier Luminet, Kristy A. Nielson, Nathan Ridout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alexithymia is a multifaceted personality construct characterised by difficulties identifying one’s feelings and distinguishing them from bodily sensations, difficulties describing one’s feelings to others, and an externally oriented cognitive style. Over the past 25 years, a burgeoning body of research has examined how alexithymia moderates processing at the cognition–emotion interface. We review the findings in five domains: attention, appraisals, memory, language, and behaviours. The preponderance of studies linked alexithymia with deficits in emotion processing, which was apparent across all domains, except behaviours. All studies on behaviours and a proportion of studies in other domains demonstrated emotional over-responding. Analysis at the facet level revealed deficits in memory and language that are primarily associated with externally oriented thinking, while over-responding was most often linked to difficulty identifying feelings and difficulty describing feelings. The review also found evidence for contextual modulation: The pattern of deficits and over-responding was not restricted to emotional contexts but also occurred in neutral contexts, and in some circumstances, emotional over-responding in alexithymia was beneficial. Taken together, this review highlights alexithymia as a central personality dimension in the interplay between cognition and emotion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-487
Number of pages39
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • Alexithymia
  • appraisals
  • attention
  • behaviors
  • cognition
  • emotion
  • language–emotion regulation
  • memory


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