The concept of alexithymia has garnered much attention in an attempt to understand the psychological mechanisms underlying the experience of feeling an emotion. In this study, we aimed to understand how the interoceptive processing in an emotional context relates to problems of alexithymia in recognizing self-emotions. Therefore, we prepared experimental conditions to induce emotional awareness based on interoceptive information. As such, we asked participants to be aware of interoception under an anxiety-generating situation anticipating pain, having them evaluate their subjective anxiety levels in this context. High alexithymia participants showed attenuated functional connectivity within their ‘interoception network’, particularly between the insula and the somatosensory areas when they focused on interoception. In contrast, they had enhanced functional connectivity between these regions when they focused on their anxiety about pain. Although access to somatic information is supposed to be more strongly activated while attending to interoception in the context of primary sensory processing, high alexithymia individuals were biased as this process was activated when they felt emotions, suggesting they recognize primitive and unprocessed bodily sensations as emotions. The paradoxical somatic information processing may reflect their brain function pathology for feeling emotions and their difficulty with context-dependent emotional control.
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