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Contemporary and Future Research into Alexithymia

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Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London

16 De Crespigny Park

London

SE5 8AF

United Kingdom

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This meeting will comprise of a day of talks on the subject of alexithymia, a difficulty identifying and describing one's own emotions. The day is free to attend, and is aimed at early career researchers, including graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. This event is supported by the Experimental Psychology Society.


Background for the meeting

Alexithymia describes a difficulty identifying and describing one’s own feelings. While it has been known for some time that alexithymia is elevated in a range of clinical populations, research has only just begun to uncover the contribution made by alexithymia to a number of different cognitive processes in both patient and typical populations. Alexithymia is associated with difficulties in decision making, recognising emotional facial expressions, empathy, and pro-social behaviour. The precise aetiology (or potential multiple different aetiologies) of alexithymia is still unknown, but research into its underpinnings could hold promise for deeper theoretical knowledge about the cognitive and neurological bases of emotion processes. For example, recent work suggests that alexithymia may be reflective of deficits in interoception, the ability to detect the internal state of one’s body (Brewer, Cook, & Bird, 2016). This speaks to a number of influential models about emotion and cognition with a role for somatic signals, from the historic writing of William James, and Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis, through to contemporary ideas about embodied emotion and cognition (Damasio, 1999; Herbert & Pollatos, 2012; James, 1884).

As well as the potential for advancing psychological theories, alexithymia research has clear applications to clinical practice. It has been linked to poorer emotion regulation, an increased risk of self-harm, poorer response to some forms of psychological therapy, and may represent a trans-diagnostic risk factor for poorer mental health. Furthermore, emotional deficits reported in conditions such as autism spectrum disorders and eating disorders have been shown to be related to co-occurring alexithymia, rather than these conditions themselves (Brewer, Cook, Cardi, Treasure, & Bird, 2015; Cook, Brewer, Shah, & Bird, 2013). Capturing the independent influence of alexithymia on emotion and cognitive abilities may lead us to reconsider what deficits are considered core to some mental health conditions.

While there has been increased research interest in alexithymia in the last few years, significant future breakthroughs will require collaborations across the fields of psychological study. Research in this area is on the brink of an exciting transformation from questionnaire-based correlational work to experimental investigation of the role of alexithymia in a diverse range of cognitive processes, making it an ideal time to bring together early-career researchers in fields including cognitive psychology, social cognition, judgement and decision-making, emotion, and social cognitive neuroscience who are working on topics related to the interface of emotion and cognition. This meeting, funded by the Experimental Psychology Society, aims to bring together such researchers to hear a collection of speakers share their recent work on alexithymia. The sessions will cover a range of topics including:

The impact of alexithymia on social processes (for example, the processing of emotional facial expressions, the effects on social reward, and pro-social behaviour);

The impact of alexithymia on learning, cognitive control, and decision-making (including the representation of risk and uncertainty, and the impact of reward on learning);

The relationship between interoception and alexithymia (including recent evidence surrounding interoceptive deficits in alexithymia, recent advances in the measurement of interoception, and the role of interoception in emotion processes);

New investigations of the impact of alexithymia in clinical groups and settings (drawing on developmental and acquired conditions, the possible impact of alexithymia on diagnosis, and harnessing research findings for novel interventions).

In addition to these talks, delegates will be encouraged to consider what evidence is currently lacking, and what the next stage of alexithymia research should look like. Thoughts about current research needs and outstanding questions will be collected throughout the day to fuel a panel discussion at the end of the meeting on “Future directions for alexithymia research”. We hope the discussion will touch on the major challenges currently facing the field, and what collaborations will be necessary for alexithymia research to progress.


Schedule for the day

The day will be structured into themed sessions containing talks from researchers on the topic of alexithymia. Once speakers have been confirmed, the draft and final schedule will be posted here, and emailed out to registered attendees. A sandwich lunch, coffee and an evening wine reception will be provided.


Posters

This meeting will also be an opportunity for early career researchers to present a poster on their own topic of work, and there will be a small prize for best poster. Poster space is limited, and if oversubscribed abstracts will be judged by the organisers to decide which posters will be invited to present. Delegates that wish to submit a poster abstract should email it to hannah.hobson@kcl.ac.uk by August 4th.

Travel

The meeting will be hosted at the IoPPN's main building, at KCL's Denmark Hill campus. The nearest train station is Denmark Hill. Early career researchers may consider applying for funds to support their travel to the event: see PsyPAG bursaries, the Grindley Grant and the BPS’s Postdoctoral Conference Scheme.


Twitter

The meeting does have a hashtag, which will also serve to collect questions from delegates to feed our discussion about the future of alexithymia research: #Alexithymia2017.


Questions

Contact Dr Hannah Hobson (hannah.hobson@kcl.ac.uk) with any queries about this event.

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Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London

16 De Crespigny Park

London

SE5 8AF

United Kingdom

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