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Psychopathy, alexithymia and affect in female offenders Louth, Shirley May


Psychopathy and alexithymia are disorders with many conceptual similarities. For example, Factor 1 of the Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991) contains items like shallow affect and lack of empathy, which seem to map on to the construct of alexithymia. Additionally, both psychopaths and alexithymics display striking differences from others in their use of language, especially affective language. The two areas of interest in the present study were (a) occurrence and co—occurrence of psychopathy and alexithymia in a sample of female inmates, and (b) the relationship between affective language and these two disorders. Psychopathy and alexithymia were assessed in 37 women offenders incarcerated in a Burnaby Correctional Centre, using the PCL-R and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale ( TAS; Taylor, Ryan & Bagby, 1985). Each subject was presented with a short written scenario designed to elicit an emotional response, and asked to describe the feelings of the characters in the story. Their taped responses were analyzed for measures of affect. Base rates of both disorders were comparable to those in similar samples, ( 30% of the inmates were diagnosed as psychopathic; 33% as alexithymic) but the coxnorbidity rate was only 8%. There was a significant correlation between alexithymia scores and PCL—R Factor 2 scores — the factor assessing antisocial behaviour. Multiple regression analysis revealed that the TAS and PCL-R were both predictive of violence. This relationship between the PCL-R and violence is well substantiated; that the TAS also predicts violence is a newer finding. Alexithymics spoke more slowly, used fewer total words overall and fewer affective words, and displayed less emotion in their voices than did nonalexithymics. Psychopaths could not be identified by any vocal measures except a slight tendency to speak faster than nonpsychopaths. Although both disorders are characterized’ by affective impoverishment, the verbal expressions of affect were very different in psychopaths and alexithymics. The psychopaths were adept at convincing raters of an emotional investment they did not feel; alexithymics could not disguise their lack of appropriate emotional response.

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