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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Neuroimaging studies of alexithymia: physical, affective, and social perspectives

Yoshiya Moriguchi12* and Gen Komaki3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychophysiology, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, 4-1-1 Ogawahigashi, Kodaira, Tokyo, 187-0031, Japan

2 Integrative Brain Imaging Center, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry4-1-1 Ogawahigashi, Kodaira, Tokyo, 187-0031, Japan

3 Fukuoka School of Rehabilitation Sciences, International University of Health and Welfare, 137-1, Enokizu, Ohkawa, Fukuoka, 831-0004, Japan

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BioPsychoSocial Medicine 2013, 7:8  doi:10.1186/1751-0759-7-8

Published: 28 March 2013

Abstract

Alexithymia refers to difficulty in identifying and expressing one’s emotions, and it is related to disturbed emotional regulation. It was originally proposed as a personality trait that plays a central role in psychosomatic diseases. This review of neuroimaging studies on alexithymia suggests that alexithymia is associated with reduced neural responses to emotional stimuli from the external environment, as well as with reduced activity during imagery, in the limbic and paralimbic areas (i.e., amygdala, insula, anterior/posterior cingulate cortex). In contrast, alexithymia is also known to be associated with enhanced neural activity in somatosensory and sensorimotor regions, including the insula. Moreover, neural activity in the medial, prefrontal, and insula cortex was lowered when people with alexithymia were involved in social tasks. Because most neuroimaging studies have been based on sampling by self-reported questionnaires, the contrasted features of neural activities in response to internal and external emotional stimuli need to be elucidated. The social and emotional responses of people with alexithymia are discussed and recommendations for future research are presented.

Keywords:
Alexithymia; fMRI; PET; Neuroimaging study; Interoception; Psychosomatic medicine; Emotional awareness