Alexithymia is widespread. According to a study by the universities of Leipzig and Düsseldorf, ten percent of the German population is highly alexithymic. For individuals with mental health disturbances, the statistic is one in four. Alexithymia sufferers experience considerable difficulty articulating their emotional states. As a consequence, other emotional competencies, such as the ability to interpret the feelings of others and to respond appropriately, may be less developed as well. Alexithymia is not an illness, but a personality trait which can, if sufficiently pronounced, cause severe suffering to those affected.
There are many causes, and while genetic factors seem to be implicated, alexithymia may also stem from being raised in an emotionally deprived family or in an excessively regimented fashion, or from a traumatic experience. At the conference, physicians, neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychotherapists will discuss possible new approaches to research.
The study of alexithymia is one of the priorities of the Languages of Emotion research cluster because new approaches are not only of interest for improving the situation of those affected. A better understanding of this disorder, in which physical and psychological factors are so closely linked, will also contribute to a better understanding of human emotions in general.
The conference will focus on the interaction between the causal factors and the areas affected by alexithymia, including facial expressions and gestures, sensitivity to pain, and the capacity for empathy. Studies using imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging provide insights into the emotional processing in the brain. Researchers from the Languages of Emotion cluster will also present the results of their research.