Limitations of a self-distanced perspective : alexithymia as a moderator of self-distancing and emotional processing

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University of Delaware
Many researchers view cognition and emotion as interconnected components of emotional processing. Research indicates that adopting a “distanced” perspective, in which an individual explores an emotional experience from a cognitive distance, facilitates adaptive cognitive reappraisal and emotional processing of the experience. However, little is known about the benefits of self-distancing in individuals who have difficulties integrating their cognitive and emotional experiences. Alexithymia is a construct that characterizes a disconnect between cognitions and emotions, and individuals with high levels of alexithymia may not have the ability to fully engage and benefit from adopting a self-distanced perspective. Using a college-student population over-sampled for moderate to high alexithymia (N=211 study completers), the current study examined alexithymia as a moderator of the association between self-immersed and self-distanced perspectives and emotional processing when recalling an interpersonal rejection experience. Self-immersed and self-distanced perspectives were associated with higher negative affect compared to a distraction group, and alexithymia did not moderate the association between perspective and negative affect. However, alexithymia moderated the relationship of self-immersed and self-distanced perspectives with one of two measures of processing, indicating that higher levels of alexithymia may inhibit processing during self-distancing. Further examination identified the externally-oriented thinking factor of alexithymia as particularly relevant in self-distancing. Implications of these findings for the benefits of self-distancing, the conceptualization of alexithymia, and treatment are discussed.