The Sound of Feelings: Electrophysiological Responses Emotional Speech in Alexithymia

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Abstract

Background: Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by difficulties in the cognitive processing of emotions (cognitive dimension) and in the experience of emotions (affective dimension). Previous research focused mainly on visual emotional processing in the cognitive alexithymia dimension. We investigated the impact of both alexithymia dimensions on electrophysiological responses to emotional speech in 60 female subjects.

Methodology: During unattended processing, subjects watched a movie while an emotional prosody oddball paradigm was presented in the background. During attended processing, subjects detected deviants in emotional prosody. The cognitive alexithymia dimension was associated with a left-hemisphere bias during early stages of unattended emotional speech processing, and with generally reduced amplitudes of the late P3 component during attended processing. In contrast, the affective dimension did not modulate unattended emotional prosody perception, but was associated with reduced P3 amplitudes during attended processing particularly to emotional prosody spoken in high intensity.

Conclusions: Our results provide evidence for a dissociable impact of the two alexithymia dimensions on electrophysiological responses during the attended and unattended processing of emotional prosody. The observed electrophysiological modulations are indicative of a reduced sensitivity to the emotional qualities of speech, which may be a contributing factor to problems in interpersonal communication associated with alexithymia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere36951
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume7
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15-May-2012

Keywords

  • EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS
  • FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
  • HEMISPHERIC-SPECIALIZATION
  • MISMATCH NEGATIVITY
  • ASPERGER-SYNDROME
  • INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS
  • BRAIN POTENTIALS
  • SEX-DIFFERENCES
  • PROSODY
  • ATTENTION

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