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An examination of the relationship between Alexithymia and health anxiety

Zeng, Gerald (2015) An examination of the relationship between Alexithymia and health anxiety. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

A theoretical basis exists on which alexithymia may be associated with health anxiety (G. J. Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1997). However, despite this link, there has been little research into a theorized relationship between alexithymia and health anxiety, and even among such studies, there is no consensus on whether there is a relationship between alexithymia and health anxiety. The present series of studies firstly explored whether alexithymia and health anxiety are related constructs, and secondly examined in-depth the nature of any such relationship.

Studies 1 and 2 explored whether alexithymia and health anxiety are related. Study 1 employed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and the Short Health Anxiety Inventory (SHAI) as measures of alexithymia and health anxiety respectively, while Study 2 utilized the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ) to ascertain if the results from Study 1 could be replicated with a different measure of alexithymia. After controlling for depression and anxiety, both studies found alexithymia to be related to health anxiety, albeit only for certain domains of alexithymia – greater difficulty identifying feelings was associated with greater levels of health anxiety; however, engaging in externally oriented thinking, reduced analysis of feelings, and reduced levels of emotionalizing were all inversely related to health anxiety. Furthermore, these relationships varied by the severity of alexithymia and gender, with stronger associations observed with increasing alexithymic severity.

Study 3 then examined if the relationship between alexithymia and health anxiety was mediated by an external variable – anxiety sensitivity. Study 3a again utilized the TAS-20 while Study 3b employed the BVAQ. Both dimensions dealing with concerns about the physical and cognitive consequences of emotional arousal were found to mediate the relationship between having difficulty identifying feelings and health anxiety. However, these indirect effects were detected more consistently for the sample in Study 3a than in 3b. Additionally, the physical concerns dimension was found to mediate the relationship between a reduced capacity to emotionalize and health anxiety. Thus, the current findings hold a number of theoretical, therapeutic, and even wider research implications for the alexithymia construct, all of which are discussed here with regard to the overall question of whether alexithymia is related to health anxiety.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology and Exercise Science
Supervisor: Collins, Marjorie
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/27860
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