Journal Article

Blunted feelings: Alexithymia is associated with a diminished neural response to speech prosody

Katharina Sophia Goerlich-Dobre, Jurriaan Witteman, Niels O. Schiller, Vincent J. P. van Heuven, André Aleman and Sander Martens

in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Volume 9, issue 8, pages 1108-1117
Published in print August 2014 | ISSN: 1749-5016
Published online September 2013 | e-ISSN: 1749-5024 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nst075
Blunted feelings: Alexithymia is associated with a diminished neural response to speech prosody

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How we perceive emotional signals from our environment depends on our personality. Alexithymia, a personality trait characterized by difficulties in emotion regulation has been linked to aberrant brain activity for visual emotional processing. Whether alexithymia also affects the brain’s perception of emotional speech prosody is currently unknown. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the impact of alexithymia on hemodynamic activity of three a priori regions of the prosody network: the superior temporal gyrus (STG), the inferior frontal gyrus and the amygdala. Twenty-two subjects performed an explicit task (emotional prosody categorization) and an implicit task (metrical stress evaluation) on the same prosodic stimuli. Irrespective of task, alexithymia was associated with a blunted response of the right STG and the bilateral amygdalae to angry, surprised and neutral prosody. Individuals with difficulty describing feelings deactivated the left STG and the bilateral amygdalae to a lesser extent in response to angry compared with neutral prosody, suggesting that they perceived angry prosody as relatively more salient than neutral prosody. In conclusion, alexithymia may be associated with a generally blunted neural response to speech prosody. Such restricted prosodic processing may contribute to problems in social communication associated with this personality trait.

Keywords: alexithymia; emotional prosody; amygdala; superior temporal gyrus; inferior frontal gyrus

Journal Article.  6559 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience

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