High levels of alexithymia are typically associated with impaired memory for emotional, but not neutral words. We conducted two experimental studies to establish if this effect generalises to non-verbal socially relevant stimuli. Thirty-nine female undergraduates (Study 1) viewed faces with different expressions (neutral, angry, happy or sad) and 38 female students (Study 2) viewed videos of realistic social interactions (featuring anger, happiness, sadness or neutral affect). Participants were asked to identify the emotion portrayed and were subsequently given an intentional recognition memory test for the stimuli. They also completed self-report measures of alexithymia and mood (depression & anxiety). In Study 1, memory for emotional (especially angry), but not neutral faces was negatively related to the “difficulty describing feelings” facet of alexithymia. In Study 2, memory for emotional (particularly those featuring anger), but not neutral videos was negatively related to the “difficulty identifying feelings” and “externally oriented thinking” facets of alexithymia. In both studies, these memory deficits were independent of the effects of age and mood. Furthermore, the deficits appear to be most evident in the conscious recollection of the emotional stimuli. Our findings confirm that the memory deficit for emotional words in alexithymia generalises to important non-verbal socially relevant stimuli.
Bibliographical noteThis is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Cognition and Emotion on 8 April 2020, available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/02699931.2020.1747991