What is alexithymia? Using factor analysis to establish its latent structure and relationship with fantasizing and emotional reactivity
Journal of Personality
School of Arts and Humanities
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC Objective: There is ongoing uncertainty about the structure and definition of alexithymia. Conceptually, alexithymia has traditionally been defined as a multidimensional trait with four components: difficulty identifying feelings, difficulty describing feelings, externally orientated thinking, and difficulty fantasizing. However, some authors suggest that difficulty fantasizing might not be a component, and others suggest low emotional reactivity is a fifth component. In this study, we sought to clarify this issue using factor analysis. Method: In a sample of adults (N = 508), we administered a comprehensive battery of psychometric measures and analyzed their latent structure using exploratory factor analysis. Results: Subscales assessing difficulty identifying feelings, difficulty describing feelings, and externally orientated thinking all loaded well together on the alexithymia factor. However, none of the subscales assessing aspects of difficulty fantasizing (i.e., daydreaming frequency, vividness, content, or use of daydreams to regulate emotions) loaded on the alexithymia factor. Similarly, no emotional reactivity subscales loaded on the alexithymia factor, and alexithymia was associated with higher (not lower) levels of emotional reactivity for negative emotions. Conclusions: Difficulty fantasizing and low emotional reactivity are not components of the latent alexithymia construct. The traditional four-component definition of alexithymia likely warrants refinement to a more parsimonious three-component solution.