Child Maltreatment and Alexithymia: A Meta-Analytic Review

Julia Ditzer*, Eileen Y. Wong, Rhea N. Modi, Maciej Behnke, James J. Gross, Anat Talmon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Alexithymia refers to difficulties identifying and describing one's emotions. Growing evidence suggests that alexithymia is a key transdiagnostic risk factor. Despite its clinical importance, the etiology of alexithymia is largely unknown. The present study employs meta-analytic methods to summarize findings on the role of one hypothesized antecedent of adult alexithymia, namely child maltreatment. We obtained effect size estimates from 99 independent samples reported in 78 unique sources that reported both child maltreatment history and adult levels of alexithymia. These studies involved a total of 36,141 participants. Using correlation coefficients as our effect size index, we found that child maltreatment was positively related to overall adult alexithymia ( r = .23 [.19, .27]). Notably, emotional abuse ( r = .18 [.13, .23]), emotional neglect ( r = .21 [.16, .26]), and physical neglect ( r = .18 [.15, .22]) were the strongest predictors. Effects were moderated by gender, affiliation with clinical versus nonclinical samples, and publication status. Overall results were robust to publication bias and the presence of outliers. These findings contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the complex connection between different types of child maltreatment and alexithymia, providing greater insight into the early environmental influences on alexithymia. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)311-329
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume149
Issue number5-6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • alexithymia
  • child maltreatment
  • emotional abuse
  • emotional neglect
  • meta-analysis

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