Alexithymic individuals have difficulties processing emotional stimuli, including faces, and may require more resources to process such stimuli. Alexithymia may interact with task characteristics, like perceptual load, which modulates the processing capacity allocated to task-relevant, versus task-irrelevant stimuli. We examined effects of load and distractor type (face, object) and valence (threatening, neutral), and alexithymia on performing a letter-search task. We assessed reaction time, accuracy, and heart rate to index arousal and cognitive effort. Perceptual load, distractor presence, type and valence showed expected effects. Alexithymia did not meaningfully affect reaction time, but was associated with decreased accuracy when distractors were threatening, under low perceptual load. HR did not suggest changes in resources mobilized depending on alexithymia level. Results suggest that alexithymic individuals perceived emotional stimuli and were able to maintain intact reaction time, though this came with a cost in accuracy. Absence of HR effects suggests that no additional resources were recruited to remedy this difficulty. Overall, results suggest that emotional stimuli are perceived in alexithymia at early stages, but resources are not appropriately allocated to prevent performance impairment.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Georgia Panayiotou, Marios Theodorou, Scott R. Vrana, Nikos Konstantinou