Consciousness and Cognition
Alexithymia is associated with emotion processing deficits, particularly for negative emotional information. However, also common are a high prevalence of somatic symptoms and the perception of somatic sensations as distressing. Although little research has yet been conducted on memory in alexithymia, we hypothesized a paradoxical effect of alexithymia on memory. Specifically, recall of negative emotional words was expected to be reduced in alexithymia, while memory for illness words was expected to be enhanced in alexithymia.
Eighty-five high or low alexithymia participants viewed and rated arousing illness-related ("pain"), emotionally positive ("thrill"), negative ("hatred"), and neutral words ("horse"). Recall was assessed 45 min later.
High alexithymia participants recalled significantly fewer negative emotion words but also more illness-related words than low alexithymia participants. The results suggest that personal relevance can shape cognitive processing of stimuli, even to enhance retention of a subclass of stimuli whose retention is generally impaired in alexithymia.