Social Brains, Social Bodies: Investigating the Role of Personality in Embodied Emotion
Blain, Scott D.
Accurate emotion perception is essential for adaptive social functioning. Abnormal emotion perception and associated social impairments are core features of neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and autism. Such deficits extend to healthy individuals who share latent liability for these conditions, such as those with elevated schizotypal or autistic traits. Although much is known about emotion perception deficits in the schizophrenia- and autism- spectrum, underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated. One proposed mediating mechanism is alexithymia, a difficulty labeling and describing feelings. In turn, alexithymia is associated with abnormal interoception and experience of embodied emotion. The goal of the current study was to examine alexithymia’s contribution in the impact of schizotypal and autistic traits on embodied emotion, as assessed by an emotion perception task that asks participants to discriminate emotions from the gait of polygonal avatar walkers and a visual body mapping task that asks participants to map emotions onto an outline of a body. Results indicated negative correlations between low-threshold emotion perception via gait and autism-spectrum quotient (ρ = -0.23, p < 0.05), as well as positive schizotypy (ρ = -0.28, p = 0.01) but not alexithymia. Decreased emotion perception was associated with decreased report of embodied emotion, on the body mapping task. The study also replicated previously demonstrated correlations between alexithymia, schizotypy, and autism-spectrum quotient (p < 0.05), serving as further validation of the AQ-10 item version. In summary, the current study further clarifies our understanding of emotion perception in the extended phenotypes of autism- and schizophrenia-spectrum, while also indicating connections between interpersonal and intrapersonal embodied emotion.