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Awareness of emotions: Movement behavior as an indicator of implicit emotional processing in subjects with and without alexithymia (307)

Principal Investigator:

In this project, we investigate whether or not implicit emotional processes are reflected in the movement behaviors of subjects suffering from alexithymia.

In their model of emotional awareness, Lane und Schwartz (1987) postulate a five level process regarding development in the individual’s capacity to perceive his/her own emotions and those of others in a conscious and differentiated way. Whereas in level I (involving perceptions of bodily sensation as the sole correlate to emotional processing) and II (involving perceptions of impulses leading toward action), emotional processing proceeds implicitly, levels III – V classify explicit, increasingly differentiated stages of emotional processing.

In order to assess the individual’s level of emotional awareness, Lane and his colleagues developed the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS, 1990). The methodological problem with LEAS, however, is that even a subjects’ classification as belonging to level I or II (implicit emotional processing) is necessarily based on his or her explicit verbal statements.

In this project, we directly examine the implicit non-verbal behavior manifested during oral responses to the emotional scenarios of LEAS in subjects with and without alexithymia. This procedure allows us to test the validity of LEAS with respect to the Emotional Awareness Model. Furthermore, we explore the Emotional Awareness Model itself by attempting to determine whether high levels of explicit emotional awareness are associated with a lowered incidence of implicit emotional reactions in movement behavior, i.e., whether these two modi of emotional processing relate to one another in a developmental sequence.

Right-handed, male subjects with and without alexithymia are videotaped giving oral responses to the LEAS. In order to create a control condition designed to elicit cognitive rather than emotional processes, we also record verbal responses to oral subtests of the Hamburg Wechsler Intelligence Scales. Each subject’s videotaped movement behavior is then evaluated by two independent blind raters with the NEUROpsychological GESture Coding System (Lausberg & Slöetjes, 2009).

By exploring the functions of non-verbal behavior, this project contributes to multidisciplinary research on alexithymia and emotional processing.