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Pauline Pearson, Lorna Jakobson; I See What You Mean: The Influence of Alexithymia on the Processing of Nonverbal Cues. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):617. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.617.
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Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by difficulty describing feelings, difficulty interpreting feelings, and an externally focused thinking style. Individuals with alexithymic traits also have difficulties inferring what others are feeling and empathizing with them (i.e., affective mentalizing skills). The current study examined whether they also have difficulty interpreting a speaker's intended meaning, especially those communicated through nonverbal cues —a skill that requires cognitive mentalizing. A non-clinical sample (N=70) of university students was shown a series of short videos, selected from the Relational Inference in Social Communication database (Rothermich & Pell, 2015), which depicted speakers making literal or indirect statements to a conversational partner. In half of the videos, participants were given a verbal cue about the speaker's intent, whereas in the remaining videos only nonverbal cues (e.g., facial expressions, eye movements, gestures, and body language) were available to support participants' inferences. Alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale; TAS-20), empathic ability (Interpersonal Reactivity Index; IRI), verbal IQ were measured, along with accuracy and reaction time for identification of the speaker's intention. Verbal IQ and IRI Fantasy scores were important predictors of people's ability to discern speakers' intentions accurately when verbal context was available (F(2,69) = 6.19, p = .003). In the absence of verbal context, those who had difficulty describing their own feelings performed more accurately (F(3,69) = 5.54, p = .002), whereas those who had greater difficulty identifying their feelings needed more time to make their judgments (F(2,69) = 3.48, p = .037). We show that although individuals who have problems distinguishing their feelings from other inner states (i.e., atypical interoception) are not less accurate at interpreting nonverbal cues, they do need more time to interpret them. These findings support the view that interoception is fundamental to both affective and cognitive mentalizing.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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