Get access

Alexithymia, Emotional Disclosure, and Health: A Program of Research


  • Preparation of this article and some of the studies reported here were supported by funding from the Arthritis Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Sigma Xi.

Address correspondence to: Mark A. Lumley, Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, 71 West Warren Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 4820. Email:


Abstract This article reviews a program of research on alexithymia, emotional disclosure, and health. The article first describes two lines of research and then outlines current work attempting to integrate these lines. The first research line involves basic correlational studies on alexithymia's link to health problems; these studies suggest that alexithymia is a potential risk factor for symptoms and illness behavior, although not necessarily organic disease. The second research line involves experimental studies of the health effects of emotional disclosure via expressive writing or talking; these studies suggest that disclosure improves health on average, but that the effects are not that robust and that various moderators likely are involved. The next section of the article describes recent attempts to integrate the two research lines by examining how baseline levels of alexithymia influence the effects of emotional disclosure; these analyses suggest that alexithymia interferes with or attenuates the health benefits of disclosure. Finally, the article describes initial forays into research on interventions with the alexithymic patients. This evolving program of research demonstrates the value of integrating emotion, personality, and health, and highlights the bidirectional relationship between clinical problems and basic research.