Alexithymia in an anorexic population: Prevalence and predictive variables

Stephanie Jill Greenberg, Pace University

Abstract

Research has shown that eating disordered patients exhibit traits similar to alexithymia. Alexithymia can be described as an inability to identify or describe emotional experiences. Bruch (1973) has observed that eating disordered individuals have deficits in interoceptive awareness and are unable to correctly perceive and interpret bodily processes. These traits are often seen in patients with alexithymic tendencies. To date, very little empirical research has looked at the relationship between anorexia nervosa and alexithymia. Since eating disorders represent miscognitions of internal bodily based experiences, it seems reasonable to consider the relevance of this to alexithymia. In other words, are anorexics alexithymic? ^ The present study examined the prevalence of alexithymia in an anorexic sample as compared to a normal control sample. Three hypotheses were formulated. The first hypothesis stated that the mean alexithymia score will be significantly higher in the anorexic group as compared to the normal control group. The second hypothesis stated that the average spontaneous expression of inner cognitive and affective experience will be significantly lower in the anorexic group as compared to the normal control group. The third hypothesis stated that there will be a positive relationship between interoceptive awareness and alexithymia. In addition, a research question examined to what extent anorexia, fantasy level, interoceptive awareness and the subscales of the SCL-90-R predict alexithymia. The samples consisted of 53 female adolescents between the ages of 14 and 25. The first group consisted of 23 anorexic patients from a day treatment program from a large suburban university hospital; while the second group consisted of 30 participants who were recruited from a suburban private high school and through advertisements placed in local schools. Each subject completed 6 measures: Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (EDI-2), Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (TAS-20), Ideational Productivity Test (transcendence index), and Symptom Checklist (SCL)-90R. ^ Overall results support the stated hypotheses. First, alexithymia was found to be more prevalent in an anorexic group as compared to a normal control group. Second, the anorexic group showed less spontaneous expression of inner cognitive and affective experience than the normal control group. Third, a large positive relationship was found between interoceptive awareness and alexithymia. In response to the research question, the results of a regression analysis revealed that most of the alexithymia variance could be attributed to group membership, depression and interoceptive awareness. ^ Implications for the usefulness in identifying children and young adolescents who might be at risk for developing anorexia and subsequent treatment are discussed.* ^ *Originally published in DAI Vol. 58, No. 7. Reprinted here with corrected school. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Physiological

Recommended Citation

Stephanie Jill Greenberg, "Alexithymia in an anorexic population: Prevalence and predictive variables" (January 1, 1997). ETD Collection for Pace University. Paper AAI9801921.
http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/dissertations/AAI9801921

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