ADVERTISEMENT

Testing Emotional Awareness, Alexithymia, And Psychophysiology In A Rare Patient Who Could Not Experience Emotions

Some people are much more aware of their emotions than others. Emotion researchers often refer to this characteristic as “trait emotional awareness” (tEA). People who self-report having low emotional awareness (e.g., that they do not understand their own emotions) are also referred to as having “alexithymia,” which literally means “not having words for emotions.”

In this paper, we describe a rare individual (“Jane”) who said she has never been able to feel emotions her entire life. Yet, she did show some outward signs of emotions. For example, while talking with a psychiatrist about some of her marriage problems, her eyes began to well up with tears; yet, she said she felt no sadness and stated that her eyes just “do this” sometimes. To understand this unusual phenomenon better, we asked her to participate in a study.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the first set of tests, we found that she had very high alexithymia scores and very low tEA scores. She also did not notice the changes in emotional intensity that most people feel in response to emotional pictures. However, Jane performed well on a test that measured her ability to recognize emotions in the facial expressions of others and she was also able to accurately recognize whether emotional pictures were pleasant or unpleasant.

In a second set of tests, we found that her face and body did not respond in typical ways to emotional images. While healthy people show microscopic increases in sweating in response to emotionally intense images, Jane did not show this automatic sweating response. Her facial muscle responses were also unusual. While most people show specific facial muscle responses when shown negative vs. positive images, several (but not all) of Jane’s facial muscles responded in a different pattern.

These test results support Jane’s claim that she did not have normal emotional experience. As she did not automatically react to emotional pictures with any intensity or with typical facial expressions, this could help explain why she didn’t report feeling anything. On the other hand, she could still recognize emotions well in others, which is less common in people with lower tEA scores. So she seemed to understand emotions but not to recognize or feel them in herself.

This case study shows how different parts of emotional responses can come apart (e.g., crying but not feeling sad, recognizing emotional unpleasantness but not intensity) and that a life without emotional experience is possible.

ADVERTISEMENT

These findings are described in the article entitled The importance of identifying underlying process abnormalities in alexithymia: Implications of the three-process model and a single case study illustration, recently published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Comments

READ THIS NEXT

Anaerobic Digestion: A Promising Solution To Waste

In an energy constrained world, anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) i.e. food residues and […]

Examples Of Exothermic Reactions

In chemistry, an exothermic reaction refers to a chemical reaction that results in the release of some quantity of energy, normally in the […]

Bridging The Gap Between Research And Impact: Public And Patient Involvement In Health Research

Public and patient involvement (PPI) is key to closing the gap between research production and research use, and it is […]

Transflammation: A New Frontier In Regenerative Medicine

Cardiovascular regeneration focuses on repairing or replacing damaged or senescent cardiac and vascular tissue. This damage is largely caused by […]

The Walking Stick Bug

Walking stick bugs are one of the coolest insects, and not just solely for the fact that they quite literally look […]

Uber Health To Give Patients A Ride To Doctor’s Appointments

Uber recently announced that is teaming up with a variety of healthcare organizations to give those heading to medical appointments […]

The “Big Bang” Of Alzheimer’s: Scientists Identify Potential Genesis of Disease

New research suggests that scientists have discovered the “Big Bang” of Alzheimer’s disease – the exact point a healthy protein […]

Science Trends is a popular source of science news and education around the world. We cover everything from solar power cell technology to climate change to cancer research. We help hundreds of thousands of people every month learn about the world we live in and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Want to know more?