A behavior analytic interpretation of alexithymia

Sabrina M. Darrow, William C. Follette

Alexithymia is a term used to describe individuals who seem unable to experience or at least describe emotions. This paper offers a theoretical interpretation of alexithymia from a radical behaviorist perspective. While there have been attempts to explain the etiology of alexithymia, the current analysis is unique in that it provides direct treatment implications. The pragmatic analysis described focuses on the verbal behavior of individuals rather than looking “inside” for explanations. This is supported by a review of experimental research that has failed to find consistencies among alexithymic individuals׳ physiological responding. Descriptions of the various discriminative and consequential stimulus conditions involved in the complex learning histories of individuals that could result in an alexithymic presentation are provided. This analysis helps situate the alexithymia construct in a broader behavior analytic understanding of emotions. Finally this paper outlines implications for assessment and treatment, which involve influencing discriminative and consequential interpersonal stimulus conditions to shape verbal behavior about emotions.

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