Affective agnosia: A core affective processing deficit in the alexithymia spectrum

Richard D. Lane, Mark Solms, Karen L. Weihs, Alex Hishaw, Ryan Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Affective agnosia, an impairment in knowing how one feels emotionally, has been described as an extreme deficit in the experience and expression of emotion that may confer heightened risk for adverse medical outcomes. Alexithymia, by contrast, has been proposed as an over-arching construct that includes a spectrum of deficits of varying severity, including affective agnosia at the more severe end. This perspective has been challenged by Taylor and colleagues, who argue that the concept of affective agnosia is unnecessary. We compare these two perspectives by highlighting areas of agreement, reasons for asserting the importance of the affective agnosia concept, errors in Taylor and colleagues' critique, and measurement issues. The need for performance-based measures of the ability to mentally represent emotional states in addition to metacognitive measures is emphasized. We then draw on a previously proposed three-process model of emotional awareness that distinguishes affective response generation, conceptualization and cognitive control processes which interact to produce a variety of emotional awareness and alexithymia phenotypes-including affective agnosia. The tools for measuring these three processes, their neural substrates, the mechanisms of brain-body interactions that confer heightened risk for adverse medical outcomes, and the differential treatment implications for different kinds of deficits are described. By conceptualizing alexithymia as a spectrum of deficits, the opportunity to match specific deficit mechanisms with personalized treatment for patients will be enhanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20
JournalBioPsychoSocial Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 4 2020


  • Affective agnosia
  • Alexithymia
  • Emotional awareness
  • Medical outcome
  • Neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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