Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism / U of Montreal

Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception


Researchers directed by Dr. Laurent Mottron at the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders (CETEDUM) have determined that people with autism concentrate more brain resources in the areas associated with visual detection and identification, and conversely, have less activity in the areas used to plan and control thoughts and actions. This might explain their outstanding capacities in visual tasks. The team published their findings in Human Brain Mapping on April 4, 2011.

Aiming to understand why autistic individuals have strong abilities in terms of processing visual information, the researchers collated 15 years of data that covered the ways autistic brain works when interpreting faces, objects and written words. The data came from 26 independent brain imaging studies that looked at a total of 357 autistic and 370 non-autistic individuals. “Through this meta-analysis, we were able to observe that autistics exhibit more activity in the temporal and occipital regions and less activity in frontal cortex than non-autistics. The identified temporal and occipital regions are typically involved in perceiving and recognizing patterns and objects. The reported frontal areas subserve higher cognitive functions such as decision making, cognitive control, planning and execution,” explained first author Fabienne Samson, who is also affiliated with the CETEDUM.

“This stronger engagement of the visual processing brain areas in autism is consistent with the well documented enhanced visuo-spatial abilities in this population,” Samson said. The current findings suggest a general functional reorganization of the brain in favor of perception processes – the processes by which information is recorded the brain. This allows autistic individuals to successfully perform, albeit in their own way, higher-level cognitive tasks that would usually require a strong involvement of frontal areas in typical individuals. These are tasks that require reasoning – for example, a research participant would be asked if a statement is true or false, or to categorize a range of objects into groups.

“We synthesized the results of neuroimaging studies using visual stimuli from across the world. The results are strong enough to remain true despite the variability between the research designs, samples and tasks, making the perceptual account of autistic cognition currently the most validated model,” Mottron said. “The stronger engagement of the visual system, whatever the task, represents the first physiological confirmation that enhanced perceptual processing is a core feature of neural organization in this population. We now have a very strong statement about autism functioning which may be ground for cognitive accounts of autistic perception, learning, memory and reasoning.” This finding shows that the autistic brain successfully adapts### by reallocating brain areas to visual perception, and offers many new lines of enquiry with regards to developmental brain plasticity and visual expertise in autistics.

### Or is “our brain” visually organized from the very beginning of its development, just as the pre-social, pre-verbal, non-neotenic “original” human brain would have been?

That is, it is the modern domesticated, neotenic hyper-social, hyper-verbal brain that is “adapted to” high-density, hierarchical social environments.

Source: University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders

Next Post: Full related paper. 


NASA “SPACE SOUNDS” for Halloween / COOL!

NASA’s Halloween playlist is eerie, strange, and unnerving

Want to spook your trick-or-treaters tonight? NASA has you covered. The space agency has put together the ultimate Halloween playlist, a compilation of creepy sounds picked up as radio emissions from satellites and spacecraft instruments throughout the universe, Space.com reports. Squealing howls, unnerving staccato pulses, and the eerie rush of ghostly winds will give your candy seekers wide eyes, raised arm hair, and a ratcheted heart rate. Take a listen, if you dare.

Things you can’t say in English

From: Mental Floss

38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

BY Bill DeMain , Haley Sweetland Edwards Romy Oltuski, December 14, 2015

Sometimes we must turn to other languages to find le mot juste. Here are a whole bunch of foreign words with no direct English equivalent.

1. Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon. (Brilliant!)

2. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

3. Tartle (Scots)
The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember. (Aspergers need this word)

4. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)
This word captures that special look shared between two people, when both are wishing that the other would do something that they both want, but neither want to do.

5. Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist.

6. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
You know that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet? This is the word for it. (Yes, useful for Aspergers)

7. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of piping hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise. The Ghanaians have a word for that. More specifically, it means “to move hot food around in your mouth.”

8. Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them. (Asperger again…)

9. Mencolek (Indonesian)
You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it.

10. Faamiti (Samoan)
To make a squeaking sound by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or child.

11. Gigil (Filipino)
The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

12. Yuputka (Ulwa)
A word made for walking in the woods at night, it’s the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

13. Zhaghzhagh (Persian)
The chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.

14. Vybafnout (Czech)
A word tailor-made for annoying older brothers—it means to jump out and say boo.

15. Fremdschämen (German); Myötähäpeä (Finnish)
The kinder, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to “vicarious embarrassment.”

16. Lagom (Swedish)
Maybe Goldilocks was Swedish? This slippery little word is hard to define, but means something like, “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right.”

17. Pålegg (Norwegian)
Sandwich Artists unite! The Norwegians have a non-specific descriptor for anything – ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, mustard, herring, pickles, Doritos, you name it – you might consider putting into a sandwich.

18. Layogenic (Tagalog)
Remember in Clueless when Cher describes someone as “a full-on Monet…from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess”? That’s exactly what this word means.

19. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
Or there’s this Japanese slang term, which describes the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.

20. Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

21. Ya’arburnee (Arabic)
This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me. (So touching!)

22. Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)
“Hmm, now where did I leave those keys?” he said, pana po’oing. It means to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.

23. Slampadato (Italian)
Addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons? This word describes you.

24. Zeg (Georgian)
It means “the day after tomorrow.” OK, we do have “overmorrow” in English, but when was the last time someone used that?

25. Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)
Leave it to the Brazilians to come up with a word for “tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair.”

26. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)
The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.

27. Kaelling (Danish)
You know that woman who stands on her doorstep (or in line at the supermarket, or at the park, or in a restaurant) cursing at her children? The Danes know her, too.

28. Boketto (Japanese)
It’s nice to know that the Japanese think enough of the act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking to give it a name. (Aspergers need this word!)

29. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

30. Cotisuelto (Caribbean Spanish)
A word that would aptly describe the prevailing fashion trend among American men under 40, it means one who wears the shirt tail outside of his trousers.

31. Packesel (German)
The packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.

32. Hygge (Danish)
Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

33. Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Translates to “reheated cabbage.” (Brilliant!)

34. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing dream. Not just a “good” dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

35. Litost (Czech)
Milan Kundera described the emotion as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”

36. Luftmensch (Yiddish)
There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense.

37 & 38. Schlemiel and schlimazel (Yiddish)
Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it’s spilled.


ASD and Music Study / Higher Aesthetic Capability

Front Psychol. 2017 Sep 22;8:1595.

Neurodiversity, Giftedness, and Aesthetic Perceptual Judgment of Music in Children with Autism.

Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University Inuyama, Japan.


The author investigated the capability of aesthetic perceptual judgment of music in male children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when compared to age-matched typically developing (TD) male children. Nineteen boys between 4 and 7 years of age with ASD were compared to 28 TD boys while listening to musical stimuli of different aesthetic levels. The results from two musical experiments using the above participants, are described here. In the first study, responses to a Mozart minuet and a dissonant altered version of the same Mozart minuet were compared. In this first study, the results indicated that both ASD and TD males preferred listening to the original consonant version of the minuet over the altered dissonant version. With the same participants, the second experiment included musical stimuli from four renowned composers: Mozart and Bach’s musical works, both considered consonant in their harmonic structure, were compared with music from Schoenberg and Albinoni, two composers who wrote musical works considered exceedingly harmonically dissonant. In the second study, when the stimuli included consonant or dissonant musical stimuli from different composers, the children with ASD showed greater preference for the aesthetic quality of the highly dissonant music compared to the TD children. While children in both of the groups listened to the consonant stimuli of Mozart and Bach music for the same amount of time, the children with ASD listened to the dissonant music of Schoenberg and Albinoni longer than the TD children. As preferring dissonant music is more aesthetically demanding perceptually, these results suggest that ASD male children demonstrate an enhanced capability of aesthetic judgment of music. Subsidiary data collected after the completion of the experiment revealed that absolute pitch ability was prevalent only in the children with ASD, some of whom also possessed extraordinary musical memory. The implications of these results are discussed with reference to the broader notion of neurodiversity, a term coined to capture potentially gifted qualities in individuals diagnosed with ASD.

Don’t ask me what this is all about; as a fan of “classical” Country Western with some opera thrown in, I’m a musical barbarian. LOL

This Albinoni Adagio should be familiar to everyone, since its used so frequently in TV and film productions.

Infinite, Finite Games / Male Sexual Predators

The Harvey Weinstein Scandal.

I haven’t commented about this event for good reason: It’s no surprise; its the status quo. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world are abundant and in fact are the definition of Top Predators at the apex of the traditional “Pharaoh, King, Despot, Tyrant” social pyramid.

One fundamental “perk” of this position, its attraction, its status, is that “females” are a “reward” for top males. In fact, the license to commit all sorts of bad behavior, without fear of punishment or consequences, comes with the job. This impunity is “enabled” by the “followers” of the top male, who gain their status via his ability to reward them with jobs, power, status, with “the life” of privilege they covet. So simple.

The list of these males is well-known by everyone: Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton are terrific recent examples as well as “lesser perverts” like those who selfie their penises for the entire internet to see. In fact, “getting away with” sexual predation, recovering from a scandal, and continuing to be “acceptable to society” (Bill Clinton) is the test of the Top, Top, Male. Mere “perverts” are hustled off into oblivion.

So why does everyone “pretend” to be shocked?

Top predators fall; they get old, and become annoying to too many people – they are “in the way” of those who want the job, and become a liability to the corporation, nation, institution, political party or family. The bad behavior that was hidden, covered up, cleaned up and excused by the “powers in waiting” are then used to topple the asshole.

For the Top Predator, and his social enablers, it is the Infinite game; the defining system that “tells them” who they are and confirms the extreme measure of their success. The tawdry show of “mea culpa” (we knew, complied, but against our will; afraid for our jobs, families to support, blah, blah blah) is disgusting, phony and – socially acceptable. The top predator that they lionized and praised for 30-40 years, staff who literally “ate the gourmet crumbs from his table” is suddenly a “monster” of immense scale. Rats leave a sinking ship.

Henry the VIII is a superb example of a serial abuser and killer of women, who had his “staff” do the procuring of eligible young women, (often the most unsavory types themselves), men protected and utilized by the Top Monster. To these strivers fell the task of the actual murders. Is it any different today? In degree – not in patterns of behavior. Today the “women” get “paid off” in the traditional conclusion of such matters: hush money. Many turn the “horrible incident” into career-boosting compliance. Most suffer in silence. But why?

Anne of Cleves took the “pay off”, kept her mouth shut, and saved her life.

This is not “blaming the victim”- outlining the simple and obvious “game” is acknowledgement of the Top Male Predator model of “leadership” that social humans have embraced for thousands of years.

The parade of women now “confessing” their trauma in public #metoo testimonials, has resulted in mixed reactions and thoughts on the part of this Asperger female. Emotionally, existentially, its tough: these are “universal” experiences for all women. My mother was sexually abused as a child; she hid the facts her entire life, without acknowledging the “reality” to anyone. But the consequences were there, just the same. Dysfunction in the family; secrets, depression, anger, lack of proper mothering and being a partner for my father. As a female, this “conundrum” was devastating.

I never would have judged her, as she imagined that we, her family, would do. I wanted her to be happy. But I learned as I grew into “femalehood” that nothing I could do would please her, distract her or heal her trauma. She indeed tried to undermine any success I achieved by attacking my “lack of femininity” – her opinion of which (and society’s also) is being a compliant and passive victim of “male rule”.

One result of this childhood dilemma? I converted the “infinite” game of social reality into finite encounters with those who seek to victimize women.

As a young woman who found herself in social situations, notably work environments that were overwhelmingly male, it was immediately “presented to me” that females are simply targets of sexual predation, and “you’d better get used to it.” The real shock to me, was that “nice guys” – those pleasant, hardworking dads and providers, were expected to be predators, as well as the “bosses”. The pressure on them was enormous to “prove” that they weren’t “women-lovers” – “pansies, softies, pussy-whipped” etc.

I didn’t hate the men “doing” this to women; to them it was normal and required. They were all taught to hate women in order to become male. Many openly conveyed that they “hated” the whole system of male-female antagonism, but they “put up with it” to “get along”. I just let them know that I was not a prey animal. 

So, there I was. What to do?

The regular “pot-shots” that were a tactic of a certain male type (spray the woods with a shotgun blast; maybe you’ll hit a deer) were easily deflected: nothing personal or “creepy” was intended. Mostly it was “show and no go” for purposes of displaying “maleness” to the other guys. Usually, calling their bluff was sufficient to scare the Hell out of them (what if the wife found out) and produced a quick retreat. For a few, though, this practice was more serious – testing the “deer” for weakness. We didn’t call these men “wolves” for no reason.

And then there were the “big problem” men. Creepy, sneaky, overtly mild and friendly, perhaps fatherly, even supportive of one’s talent and abilities, in an ocean of put downs and resistance to the very idea of a female presence in the office. And – often having “something to offer in trade” by being higher up in the male “gang” structure. Bosses.

What do you do with a snake? Cut its head off.

Workplaces are easy environments in which to do this; everyone can “hear” you, and anything novel spreads like wild fire. Embarrass the SOB. These are “covert predators” and do not want to be exposed to humiliation or possible consequences. Make a scene immediately. Be like the “alarm animals” that reside in every forest; squawk like a gang of monkeys who spot the jaguar, lion or other predator, and warn the other prey species of the intrusion. This is a “finite” game. It ends the episode and will also warn other women to be prepared – a sexual predator is present.

It works. A Top Male has a lot to loose, and he is surrounded by plenty of “frenemies” just waiting for the the “right moment” to cut him down.

No harm in giving them ammunition! 

Do not whine, complain, act weak, become a “pain in the ass” or expect members of the “social conspiracy” – that is, Human Resources to come to your rescue. It’s their job to protect the status quo. You will be abused; loose your job and gain a reputation, and accomplish little, unless, of course, you are after a monetary settlement.

The media and social media are clamoring incessantly that “this scandal is finally the end” of this type of sexual abuse – things have changed “forever”.  This is both propaganda and incredible naiveté: Infinite Social Games have no end. 

“Optimism is cowardice.”

Oswald Spengler

I love this scene; it so vividly portrays those split second reactions, decisions, choices – attitudes or indecisions, (the girl) that pivot one toward life or death…

Visual Thinkers / Infinite, Finite Games

The distinction between a “finite or infinite” game is very useful. As the narrator says, “the big game of life” is infinite. Getting things “done” is more often finite: Who wants auto repairs to go on indefinitely? Just get it done! Who wants children to suffer chronic hunger indefinately? Just get them fed!

The problem is, that the people in charge of “solving” social problems turn challenges like hunger, poverty and education, and just about every other human problem, into an infinite game. They mistakenly identify their infinite “life game” (I want to help people have better lives) with the finite tasks necessary to solve concrete “finite” problems. The “career” choice of the individual, which is intended to yield accomplishments for that person, cannot be sustained without achieving objectives that can only be obtained in playing the finite game. The infinite objective (intent) is confused with the finite objective (results). 

We see this misidentification of “which game is appropriate to which type of task” playing havoc in social policy and practice. A huge source of Asperger frustration is this failure to differentiate “infinite games” from “finite tasks” in the majority neurotypical population.

Also – we tend to “resent” the infinite task of negotiating the social environment, as an imposition on our “life game” because interactions which to us are FINITE (let’s say, establishing friendship), in the neurotypical mind require endless repetition, reassurance, negotiation, tension, fights, making up, starting all over again… For us, friendship is NOT HAVING TO DO ALL THIS! It’s based in trust: it’s a finite project. I’m your friend, forever, unless you destroy that trust. 


Medical Alexithymia / An Extensive Paper

My question for ASD / Asperger people: does this paper (Assessment of Alexithymia in medical settings) actually describe our “subjective” experience of interoperception?

What is that?

SEE: Interoception and emotion http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X17300106

Influential theories suggest emotional feeling states arise from physiological changes from within the body. Interoception describes the afferent signaling (in the direction of the central nervous system), central processing, and neural and mental representation of internal bodily signals… more

How is this physical phenomenon “different” in Asperger people? Don’t expect to find the answer here! 


 J Pers Assess. (Click for full paper) Author manuscript.
Some nips and tucks for length…it’s a long paper. And yes, I loose my tolerance for nuttiness hallway through…

The Assessment of Alexithymia in Medical Settings: Implications for Understanding and Treating Health Problems

History and Definition of the Alexithymia Construct

The term alexithymia literally means “lacking words for feelings” and was coined to describe certain clinical characteristics observed among patients with psychosomatic disorders who had difficulty engaging in insight-oriented psychotherapy (Sifneos, 1967). Alexithymic patients demonstrate deficiencies in emotional awareness and communication and show little insight into their feelings, symptoms, and motivation. When asked about their feelings in emotional situations, they may experience confusion (e.g., “I don’t know”), give vague or simple answers (“I feel bad”), report bodily states (e.g., “my stomach hurts”), or talk about behavior (“I want to punch the wall.”). Such patients in psychodynamic psychotherapy have been described as unproductive, unimaginative, boring, and stiff. Therapists often have difficulty establishing working alliances with them, and such psychotherapy appears to lead to little benefit.

The alexithymia construct was originally conceptualized by Nemiah, Freyberger, and Sifneos (1976) as encompassing a cluster of cognitive traits including difficulty identifying feelings, difficulty describing feelings to others, externally oriented thinking (concrete), and a limited imaginal capacity. This original view of alexithymia has been the most influential in contemporary theory and research (Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1997). An alternative conceptualization, that alexithymia is a global impairment in emotional processing resulting in limited emotional expression and recognition (Lane, Sechrest, Riedel, Shapiro, & Kaszniak, 2000), has been less influential thus far. Yet, both definitions agree that alexithymia is a deficit, inability, or deficiency in emotional processing rather than a defensive process, and this deficit view is gaining increasing support from basic laboratory research. (more)

Other psychological constructs seem similar to alexithymia and may be confused with it. Although a full presentation of these other constructs is beyond the scope of this paper, we briefly describe several and contrast them with alexithymia. Some constructs represent emotional skills, abilities, or strengths, rather than deficits or limitations. For example, emotion regulation is broader than alexithymia and refers to a wide range of processes, including being aware of emotions, accessing and expressing emotions, and monitoring and controlling emotions (Dahl, 2003). Emotion regulation is so broad that it is difficult to define, and there are no assessment devices that capture the full range of emotion regulation processes. Emotional intelligence also is broader than alexithymia, and the leading theorists propose four characteristics: perceiving emotions in others, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotions, and managing emotions (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Sitarenios, 2001). Whereas alexithymia refers to basic emotion processes, emotional intelligence refers more to the application or implications of such basic emotional abilities. Other constructs are narrower in scope than alexithymia, including emotional awareness (Lane & Schwartz, 1987), emotional approach coping (Stanton, Danoff-Burg, Cameron, & Ellis, 1994), and meta-mood skills (Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, & Palfai, 1995). These constructs typically exclude the cognitive aspects of alexithymia, (limited imaginal ability and externally oriented thinking), are newer on the psychological landscape than alexithymia, and have generated little literature relevant to their assessment in medical or mental health settings. (These two “aspects” are now part of alexithymia, the psychology version, with obvious negative prejudice as to what constitutes “imagination” – imagination=neurotypical magical thinking – and  the judgement that “concrete thinking” is pathological.) 

Several other emotion-related constructs are sometimes confused with alexithymia. Emotion suppression, inhibition, isolation, denial, and repression—like alexithymia—imply limited emotional insight and expression. Yet these constructs refer to active, defensive processes that reduce the experience or expression of emotion, whereas alexithymia is considered to be a deficit or deficiency rather than a defense. Defenses have long been the focus of psychodynamic and experiential psychotherapies, which attempt to lower or bypass them in order to facilitate emotional awareness and expression. Finally, low psychological mindedness overlaps with alexithymia (Shill & Lumley, 2002), but psychological mindedness places less emphasis on emotion than does alexithymia. The current review article will focus only on alexithymia, for which a very large literature has been generated, particularly in medical and psychiatric contexts.

The Assessment of Alexithymia

The most common approach to assessing alexithymia in applied settings is clinical judgment, and the two cases presented above were judged to be alexithymic during the course of psychotherapy. Yet, this time-worn clinical practice is of dubious psychometric quality, given that the interactions with the patient and the observations are not standardized, there are no criteria to define alexithymia and distinguish it from other constructs, and interrater reliability is unknown. Advancements in both research and clinical practice call for a more psychometrically sound approach.

Note: History of assessment tools follows – (bypassed here for the sanity of reader) 

We present measures according to the type of assessment method used—interview-based, collateral informant, projective testing, verbal responses, and self-report—and provide information on their psychometric status and utility. At the end of the article, we revisit alexithymia measurement as we explore several controversial and emerging issues…

…By far, self-report is the most widely-used approach to assessing alexithymia.

Although there is ongoing debate about the comparative validity of various alexithymia assessment approaches, the vast majority of studies have used only the TAS or TAS-20. Thus, as we evaluate alexithymia assessment in medical and mental health settings, a debate over specific measures is largely moot. Instead, we turn to our primary goal of this article, which is to answer these applied questions: What does knowing that a patient is relatively alexithymic tell the medical or mental health practitioner about the patient? Of what utility is the assessment of alexithymia in health care settings

The Utility and Validity of Assessing Alexithymia in Medical settings

Alexithymia was first described in people with classic psychosomatic disorders, and subsequent research has confirmed elevated levels of alexithymia in people with rheumatoid arthritis, essential hypertension, peptic ulcer, and inflammatory bowel disease (Taylor et al., 1997). Yet, studies have found elevated alexithymia in patients with a range of other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, cardiac disease, non-cardiac chest pain, breast cancer, diabetes, morbid obesity, chronic pain, eating disorders, substance dependence, pathological gambling, kidney failure, stroke, HIV infection, fibromyalgia, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), erectile dysfunction, low sperm counts, chronic itching, and more. The growing recognition that alexithymia is not specific to psychosomatic disorders has led to the view of alexithymia as a risk factor for those medical, psychiatric, or behavioral problems that are influenced by disordered affect regulation (Taylor et al., 1997). Alexithymia is associated with a failure to use adaptive affect regulation processes such as modulating arousal, appropriately expressing or suppressing emotions, employing fantasy, obtaining and using social support, tolerating painful emotions, cognitive assimilation, and accommodation. (That is, screwed up emotional response and control, which probably applies to almost every human being , under specific conditions and at various and numerous times during one’s life?) By hindering these processes, alexithymia is hypothesized to be one of several factors that contribute to various physical and mental health problems, including undifferentiated negative moods such as depression and anxiety, compulsive or addictive behaviors, heightened or prolonged physiological arousal, physical symptoms, and potentially somatic disease (Taylor et al., 1997).

How did we get from “lacking words for feelings” to any and all human “problems”?

In an earlier article Lumley, Stettner, and Wehmer (1996) described several processes or mechanisms by which alexithymia may influence health and illness, including changes in physiological systems (e.g., autonomic, immune, endocrine), health behavior, cognitive processes (e.g., attributions, appraisals), and social relationships (e.g., social support, social models). The current paper complements and updates that earlier review.

In this article, we examine five domains of clinical interest that may be informed by the assessment of patients’ level of alexithymia: pathophysiology and somatic disease, symptom presentation, maladaptive behavior, response to treatment, and the possibility of reducing alexithymia. In the following sections, we critically examine the literature of each domain. Table 1 summarizes our interpretations of the literature for these five domains along with limitations of those interpretations. (see paper)

Does Alexithymia Contribute to the Etiology or Pathology of Somatic Disease?

A leading theory is that the alexithymic person’s (Hmmm… shift to alexithymic “aspects” become the person’s identity) failure to regulate negative emotions results in altered autonomic, endocrine, and immune activity, thereby producing conditions that are conducive to the development of somatic disease, although the specific disease that develops is determined by other factors (Taylor et al., 1997). What is the evidence for this theory? Studies of alexithymia and physiological processes are of two types—immune function and psychophysiologic activity (Guilbaud, Corcos, Hjalmarsson, Loas, & Jeammet, 2003).

Lab data here…

There are a number of limitations of these studies, however. The studies are limited to laboratories, and we do not know how alexithymia is related to psychophysiological activity in the natural environment. (Radically more important than lab results, since most humans don’t live in a lab) Also, it is possible that elevated resting sympathetic or cardiovascular arousal could result from adjustment to the novelty of the laboratory environment, or even to factors such as poorer aerobic conditioning or the use of arousing substances (caffeine or nicotine), which most studies do not assess or control. Also, the laboratory stressors that have been studied vary widely, and many are passive or contrived (e.g., viewing videos) rather than personally relevant stressors, which may yield different responses. Finally, different physiological measures yield different response patterns, particularly in response to different emotions, thus complicating interpretation of these studies further. (Mind-boggling “ditch-digging” that undermines the whole “shebang”)

Note: We still don’t have a clear medical definition of Alexithymia anywhere in this discussion so far. What the hell are we talking about? Another mysterious label that is so extended and diffused as to mean nothing!

In summary, although the literature has limitations and the findings are not entirely consistent, there is some evidence that people with alexithymia have more resting sympathetic and cardiovascular arousal as well as impaired immune status than people without alexithymia. (more)

Does Alexithymia Contribute to Symptom Reporting and Health Care Utilization?

Although there has been much interest in the possibility that alexithymia contributes to somatic disease, an alternative mechanism is that alexithymia influences illness behavior, particularly the experience and reporting of physical symptoms and seeking of treatment. The prolonged or heightened physiological arousal experienced by an alexithymic person might be experienced as aversive physical symptoms and reported as such. Relatedly, alexithymia may prompt a person to report only the undifferentiated physiological aspects of emotion but not the emotional label or the subjective, feeling aspects of emotion. Finally, alexithymia may prompt lead to somatosensory amplification, or the tendency to notice and be concerned about one’s body, which can be intensified by the low-level negative mood that often accompanies alexithymia. All of these processes are sometimes considered aspects of “somatization.” (The ubiquitous “It’s all in your head” diagnosis – and the classic presumption that children are just trying to get attention by pretending to be sick.)

Many studies have found positive associations between alexithymia and symptom reports. (data here)

Increased symptoms in alexithymic people would be expected to prompt health care utilization, and several studies support this proposal. (more)

The proposal that alexithymia drives the experience of symptoms and seeking of care rather than somatic disease may explain why some studies find similar levels of alexithymia among different patient groups, or between patients with “explained” versus “unexplained” symptoms … (more)

Does Alexithymia Contribute to Unhealthy Behavior?

Alexithymia also may contribute to poor health by prompting maladaptive or unhealthy behavior. Although behavior is influenced by many factors (e.g., environmental contingencies, modeling, attitudes), poor emotion regulation also may contribute to unhealthy behavior. For example, drug use and other compulsive actions may serve to modulate aversive arousal. Even behaviors such as safety, nutrition, or hygiene may be impeded by the failure to experience or recognize potentially adaptive feelings such as fear, guilt, or even self-pride.

Are the authors describing “neoteny”? That is, Alexithymia as the “inability to establish adult emotional stability” …another expansion of a “symptom” into a majority condition in Americans, as is now claimed for autism and mental illness? Hmmm…

There is consistent evidence that alexithymia is elevated in people with eating disorders, problematic gambling, and alcohol and drug abuse or dependence although perhaps not cigarette smoking and nicotine dependence. One comprehensive study found that, compared with controls, patients with eating disorders or alcohol- or drug-related disorders had similar, high levels of alexithymia, and a path analysis suggested that alexithymia predicted depression which predicted the addictive behavior in these disorders (Speranza et al., 2004). In addition, alexithymic people were found to have poorer nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle (Helmers & Mente, 1999) and a greater body mass index (Neumann et al., 2004). Alexithymia also is associated with a history of childhood maltreatment and subsequent self-injurious behavior (Paivio & McCulloch, 2004). Interestingly, alexithymia is related to less frequent sexual intercourse among women (Brody, 2003), thus possibly decreasing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, although likely signaling interpersonal difficulties. Finally, an impressive, 5.5-year longitudinal study of 2297 middle-aged men found that alexithymia predicted increased risk of all-cause mortality, and the effect was even stronger for the risk of death due to injuries, suicide, or homicide, which suggests the importance of alexithymia-associated maladaptive behavior in these outcomes (Kauhanen, Kaplan, Cohen, Julkunen, & Salonen, 1996).

I’m sorry – this is why Aspergers simply give up and say, “bat-crap-crazy” neurotypicals…again.

There is a compulsion on the part of neurotypical “magic word thinkers” to take the most specific “aspects of thought and behavior” in human beings and to suddenly be possessed by the “demon of cognitive diarrhea”. Concrete thinking is utterly lacking. Analysis is unknown mental territory. Intellectual self-discipline is an “unimaginable” skill.

 Acres of blah, blah, blah skipped:


The construct of alexithymia is, in our opinion, a welcome addition that broadens our understanding of emotions, affect regulation, and the etiology and treatment of medical and psychological disorders. There is now a voluminous literature on alexithymia, and it is time that the construct makes inroads into clinical practice. The assessment of alexithymia in medical and mental health settings is both feasible and recommended, multiple measures of alexithymia using different methods are currently available, and the literature supports a number of useful clinical inferences when elevated alexithymia scores are found. Knowing a patient’s level of alexithymia guides our understanding of health status, clinical presentation, behavior, and responses to treatment. Although there remain various interpretive and conceptual limitations, we encourage readers to translate empirical and theoretical knowledge about alexithymia into clinical practice.


Preparation of this article was supported, in part, by a Clinical Science Award from the Arthritis Foundation and NIH grants AR049059 and AG009203.

What Happens When Social Rules Change? / Look Around

Asperger people are criticized for not being social, that is, we just don’t respond to social requirements as demanded by the multiple agencies of “social order”. As an Asperger, I recognize, perhaps more clearly and emphatically than neurotypicals, the need for “rules of the road” to be applied to billions of social humans who must “try to get along” with each other while providing enough resources to keep “everyone alive” and the slaves pulling their respective oars on the great barge of civilization.

Asperger individuals find themselves trying to understand human behavior from an early age, growing up as we do, on the deck of a heaving “Noah’s Ark” loaded with stampeding elephants, running to and fro, trampling the other animals, and trumpeting complaints that “The Flood” is all the other animals’ fault. All the other animals acknowledge that the Elephants are in charge – look how big and powerful they are; and how much water they drink! And food! There’s little left for the rest of the animals, who try to obey the orders the Elephants dish out about who gets to drink and eat; how much and when. A system tolerable by social animals, when each group and members of the group, get a decent amount to live on… but the damn elephants keep changing the “who gets what and how much” day to day, and even minute to minute.

The elephants have abandoned their “function” as leaders, charged with organizing the procurement of supplies, and the distribution of necessities, so that all the types of animals who joined the Ark, in a reproductive two by two scheme, ready to fulfill their part in the future of “Life After The Flood” (or at least to recover between what is a permanent condition of change and natural disaster as the pattern in Earth’s history) will have a “good shot” at extending the success of their species,  and of those species whose destiny is tied to theirs’ and vice versa.

Some of the Aspergers, who are caught in the melee of greed, confusion, desperation and irrational violence that has overtaken the deck of the Ark, hide wherever they can; finding refuge on the sinking barge, in out of the way nooks and crannies below deck. Others believe that they must try to join the madness on deck by “becoming” part of the insanity; others jump ship, discovering that there’s dry land “out there” that the denizens of the Ark simply can’t see.

After thousands of years of poor leadership, and billions more “animals” on the once-capacious Ark, no one sees the problem: the Social Rules no longer make sense. The rules keep changing minute to minute inside the social order. The animals are leaderless and resort to making their own rules, simply to survive the chaos. Some  groups see the opportunity to overthrow the elephants and impose their own rules on everyone. It’s the usual social response to leaderless conditions. Desperation. War as a state of mind that is acted upon with increasing frequency. Imposition of even worse tyrannical regimes.

But in physical reality, Nature’s laws have not changed, nor will they. Nature imposes the real and ultimate test of human behavior. Asperger people understand this. A Native American philosophical position was related to me by a Sioux acquaintance:

 “The white man will destroy himself; we wait, they will go away. We will have our way of life back and we are preserving our traditions, and will, for as long as it takes.”

Meanwhile, the elephants are rearranging the deck chairs on Noah’s Yacht.  

And no, I’m not picking on Republicans, but on failed leadership by the “top of” the social pyramid, which is responsible for leadership – you get the perks of power and wealth; you create order and protect your people through a COHERENT system of rules and regulation, and fairness in the application of social restrictions and consequences.



Emotion Recognition and Abused Children/ Japan

Gee Whiz! A common sense paper… what a welcome read. 

The Relationship between Child Maltreatment and Emotion Recognition

  • Michiko Koizumi,
  • Haruto Takagishi



Our findings revealed that the accuracy of the abused children on the RMET was significant lower than the accuracy of the control group. Interestingly, this pattern was observed in only the identification of positive emotions. Furthermore, the impact of being abused on the ability to recognize positive emotion remained low after the effects of age, gender, and AQ score were removed. These results indicated that abused children were less able to recognize positive emotional expressions. Why did abused children have difficulty inferring positive emotions from facial expressions? One explanation may be that the abused children had less exposure to positive emotions from their parents than did non-abused children and may have seen their parents’ negative emotional expression more often, perhaps even excessively. Therefore, abused children could identify negative expressions as well as non-abused children, but they could not identify positive expression. Indeed, Pollak et al. [14] suggested that fewer learning opportunities might affect a neglected child’s ability to discern or discriminate others’ emotions. According to embodied cognition theory [22], people understand others’ emotion using their own sensorimotor experiences. Therefore, poor emotion recognition in abused children may stem from less experience with positive emotions.

A second possible explanation is based on the inconsistency between a parent’s facial expression and future outcomes, such as the abuse that a child is subject to in an abusive family. In interpersonal situations, adults and children anticipate future outcomes from the cues found in others’ facial expressions. If others look like happy, positive outcomes are anticipated. If others look angry, negative outcomes are anticipated. According to a classic psychological experiment, infants estimate their own safety from a parent’s facial expression [23]. Negative facial expressions, such as angry or sad, from their parents make children upset, and positive facial expressions, such as joy and happiness, put children at ease. However, parents’ positive facial expressions are not always a sign of a positive future outcome in abusive families. (And in society in general) As abusive parents sometimes harm their children while smiling, children may not associate a positive expression with a positive outcome, and they may have trouble learning to recognize positive expressions as a result. On the other hand, a strong association between negative expressions and violence has been observed in abusive families, so children may become more sensitive to negative expressions to protect themselves. Previous studies have shown that physically abused children were sensitive to angry facial expressions [24]. Thus, the deficits in social cognition observed in abused children may be the result of adaptations engendered by living in an abusive family.

Note: An open-minded person might concede that Asperger children are “abused” by parents, teachers and most members of the social environment; rejected and neglected, bullied and ostracized (often by adults who pretend to be friendly) due to our concrete interest in, and focus on, physical, rather than social, reality. Add to this, possible abuse within the family, and “mysterious” behavior is no longer mysterious.

A third possible explanation comes from cognitive neuroscience. Using MRIs, recent research has demonstrated that the experience of being abused affects some areas of a child’s brain [25], [26]. Tomoda and colleagues [25] showed that the experience of witnessing domestic violence reduced children’s gray matter volume and the thickness of the visual cortex. Other studies have found a reduction of gray matter volume in the hippocampus in adults participants who were abused by their parents in childhood [27], and in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and middle temporal cortex in abused children [28]. As the medial orbitofrontal cortex is the area of the brain that processes emotion recognition [29], [30], and a recent functional MRI study demonstrated that the orbitofrontal cortex area is activated when participants identified positive emotions on the RMET [31], the RMET performance of abused children might be affected by a deficit in the medial orbitofrontal cortex.

There are some limitations to the present study. Unfortunately, we could not obtain permission to use restricted information about the abused children (e.g., the type of child abuse, the age at which abuse occurred, the identity of the abuser, and treatment information). In Japan, it is difficult to obtain such information for use in academic research. As previous research has shown differential impacts of the type of child maltreatment on a child’s cognition and brain [26], [27], we need to examine the impact of the type of abuse and the child’s age when abused on the ability of understanding the emotions of others in Japanese children.


Further research is needed to better understand the impact of child abuse on social cognition; we should use fMRIs to examine the relationship between the reduction of gray matter volume in child’s brain or dysfunction in the area of social brain (e.g., amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus, and other areas) and the performance on emotional recognition tasks. Longitudinal research, which could conduct fMRIs and emotion recognition tasks in the same samples repeatedly, could assess the impact of abuse on children properly. Thus, we could address the question of whether a child’s brain was damaged by being abused. By doing so, more specific therapeutic interventions can be developed to improve abused children’s interpersonal communications.