How is alexithymia expressed in language and gesture?
The term "alexithymia" literally means "having no words for feelings" and describes a personality trait characterized by a deficit in identifying, decoding, or communicating one’s own feelings or emotional aspects of social interaction. However, there are no systematic studies on language use in alexithymia with respect to emotions; bodily movements and coverbal gestures have not been considered at all in current alexithymia scales.
The project investigates if, and if so, how alexithymia expresses itself in language use and gesture. 30 subjects with high alexithymia scores and 30 control subjects participated in screenings on emotion vocabulary and in interviews that covered emotional topics and elicited narratives. The verbal encoding of emotions is evaluated by examining the use of emotion vocabulary as well as illocutionary and metaphoric expressions of emotion.
Furthermore, vibrancy, structure, and narrative perspective are taken into consideration. The gestural analysis examines whether alexithymia is not only evidenced by a deficit in verbalizing emotional content, but also by a lesser capacity to embody emotional experience in communication. It researches the verbal-gestural conceptualisation of emotions as well as the expressive qualities of gestural movements.
These analyses aim to differentiate between problems of experience and problems of verbalization or symbolization in alexithymia. The final goal of the project is to extent current models of language, gesture, and emotion and to formulate testable aspects of verbal expression and communication for the scheduled Berlin Alexithymia Inventory (B.A.L.I.; cf. Project 109).