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The cultural shaping of alexithymia: Chinese values, ‘Western’ values, and externally oriented thinking

Title:

The cultural shaping of alexithymia: Chinese values, ‘Western’ values, and externally oriented thinking

Dere, Jessica (2011) The cultural shaping of alexithymia: Chinese values, ‘Western’ values, and externally oriented thinking. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

The fundamental role that cultural context plays in shaping our emotional lives has been demonstrated in a growing number of cultural psychology studies (e.g., Mesquita & Leu, 2007). Despite the direct implications that such research holds for the study of psychopathology, mainstream clinical research largely ignores cultural context. As a result, the danger arises of pathologizing emotion-related norms and values that differ from those found in the ‘Western’ contexts that have predominantly shaped the clinical literature. These issues are particularly well captured in the construct of alexithymia, which ties lower levels of attention to emotion with emotional processing deficits. Lacking recognition of the importance of cultural context, much alexithymia research risks confounding cultural variation in the importance given to emotional experience with emotional deficits. Countering this trend, the current research critically examines alexithymia from a cultural perspective. Two studies examined the proposal that one component of alexithymia – externally oriented thinking (EOT) – is promoted within certain cultural contexts, while two other components – difficulty identifying feelings (DIF) and difficulty describing feelings (DDF) – are not.
Study 1 tested the associations between cultural values and the components of alexithymia among Euro-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian students. As expected, ‘Western’ values negatively predicted EOT in both groups, while DIF and DDF were unrelated to values. Furthermore, cultural values mediated the effect of group membership on levels of EOT. Study 2 extended this work to a Chinese clinical sample. Again, EOT was negatively predicted by ‘Western’ values, while DIF and DDF were not associated with values. The results of both studies support a model of alexithymia whereby cultural scripts that de-emphasize the importance of inner emotional experience drive levels of EOT in certain contexts, while in other cultural contexts EOT is more likely to be associated with emotional deficits. In turn, this work provides a non-pathological explanation for cultural variations in alexithymia, countering historical stereotypes regarding emotional restraint in Chinese contexts and offering a theory-driven reconceptualization of alexithymia.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Psychology
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Dere, Jessica
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Psychology
Date:October 2011
Thesis Supervisor(s):Ryder, Andrew G.
ID Code:974016
Deposited By:JESSICA DERE
Deposited On:31 Oct 2012 09:26
Last Modified:31 Oct 2012 09:26
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