Alexithymia and Affective Verbal Behavior of Psychosomatic Patients and Controls

  • Stephan Ahrens


One of the main controversial topics currently being discussed within the field of psychosomatic medicine is the question of whether a personality structure of psychosomatic patients can be described which is distinct from that of somatic or psychoneurotic patients. Concepts of a specific personality structure have been developed on the basis of observational data. A central assumption of these concepts is that psychosomatic patients are unable to adequately perceive and comprehend affective behavior (“alexithymia,” [1–3]; “pensee operatoire,” [4, 5]; “psychosomatic phenomenon,” [6–8]. As an example, Nemiah describes the course of an interview with a patient suffering from anorexia, who proved to be unable to localize feelings in her body or to describe them with adequate words. Therefore, she admitted to being nervous, when in reality she was hungry. Empirical investigations of this topic first began with the use of instruments in the tradition of personality trait assessment (for a review of this, see [9]), whereas von Rad et al. [10] concentrated on the study of psychosomatic patient’s speech. The rationale of this second approach is based on the postulate of a decrease in affective verbal expression implied by the term “alexithymia.” Von Rad et al. [10] were the first to use Gottschalk- Gleser content analysis of speech samples [11] for this purpose. In their study they used several kinds of experimental stimuli: Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) cards, unfinished stories, and an interview setting. Significant differences between psychosomatic patients vs psychoneurotic controls could only be found in respect to the interview setting.


Ulcerative Colitis Affective Behavior Affective Stimulus Affective Content Adjective Checklist 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1986

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  • Stephan Ahrens

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