آلکسیتیمیا و موفقیت تحصیلی: بررسی گذار از دبیرستان تا دانشگاه
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 38, Issue 6, April 2005, Pages 1257–1267
The present study used the major life transition of going off to university as the context for examining the relationship between alexithymia and academic achievement. During the first month of post-secondary classes 707 first-year full-time students completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). At the end of the academic year alexithymia data was matched with students’ academic records. Consistent with previous research on personality and achievement, results were dependent on how academic achievement and alexithymia was operationalized. When alexithymia variables were compared in groups who had achieved very different levels of academic achievement, success was moderately associated with alexithymia. Results are discussed in the context of the importance of affect regulation abilities during a stressful life transition.
Sifneos (1973) coined the word alexithymia to describe a constellation of behaviors he often observed in individuals experiencing various psychosomatic health problems. Over the past three decades the personality construct of alexithymia has come to be defined by the following basic features ( Taylor, 1984 and Taylor et al., 1997): difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between these feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal; difficulty describing feelings to others; constricted imaginal processes; and a stimulus-bound, externally oriented, cognitive style. In addition to these core characteristics, several related features have also been observed in individuals scoring high on measures of alexithymia, such as a lower capacity for empathy ( Guttman and Laporte, 2002 and Taylor, 1987), problems in processing emotional information ( Stone and Nielson, 2001 and Suslow and Junghanns, 2002), and difficulties in identifying the facial expressions of others ( Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 1993). Although initially linked with individuals experiencing psychosomatic problems (De Gucht & Heiser, 2003), alexithymia has come to be linked with a variety of mental health problems, such as substance use disorders (Cecero and Holmstrom, 1997 and Rybakowski et al., 1988), eating disorders (Zonnevijlle-Bender, van Goozen, Cohen-Kettenis, van Elburg, & van Engeland, 2002), and problem gambling (Parker, Wood, Bond, & Shaughnessy, in press). Within non-clinical populations, alexithymia has also been associated with a variety of lifestyle and interpersonal problems. Kauhanen, Kaplan, Julkunen, Wilson, and Salonen (1993), for example, using a large population-based sample of middle-aged men, found alexithymia to be associated with being single and socially isolated. Kokkonen, Karvonen, Veijola, Laeksy, and Jokelainen (2001) found a similar pattern of results in a younger population-based sample. Alexithymia has also been associated with the quality of interpersonal relationships. In a study exploring attachment styles in young men, Troisi, D’Argenio, Peracchio, and Petti (2001) found that alexithymia was associated with insecure attachment, independent of the severity of current levels of distress. Among individuals with insecure attachment styles, they also found that those with preoccupied or fearful patterns had higher levels of alexithymia than individuals with a dismissing pattern. Helmers and Mente (1999), also using a sample of young men, found alexithymia to be associated with maladaptive health behaviors like poor nutritional consumption and a sedentary lifestyle—maladaptive behaviors that continue to be associated with alexithymia in older adults (Waldstein, Kauhanen, Neumann, & Katzel, 2002). An important explanation for the link between alexithymia and the various negative outcome variables described above is that individuals scoring high on measures of alexithymia possess a limited range of affect regulating abilities (Taylor et al., 1997). As one consequence, individuals scoring high on measures of alexithymia do not cope well with stress (Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 1998). For example, since “alexithymic” individuals typically have problems identifying and understanding their emotions, as well as communicating these experiences, they are less likely to turn to others for support. Nor are they likely to regulate feelings of distress via daydreams or other imaginative mental activities. Carpenter and Addis (2000), in a study examining the coping behavior of individuals experiencing depressive symptoms, found that alexithymia was negatively associated with the likelihood that the individual would seek social support from friends or family, or even think about the reasons for their mood problems. A similar pattern of non-adaptive coping behaviors has been reported in individuals experiencing a variety of other health problems (see, for example, Deary et al., 1997 and Nordby et al., 1995). This maladaptive pattern of coping has also been found when studying other types of stressful situations. Fukunishi, Berger, Wogan, and Kuboki (1999), studying a sample of expatriates adjusting to life in a new country, found alexithymia to be associated with the perception of being socially isolated, being dissatisfied with life in the new country, and a perception that the individual had been happier prior to departure from their home country. The cross-sectional nature of much of the previous research on alexithymia and stressful situations limits our understanding about this important relationship. Alexithymia is typically assessed within or immediately following a stressful situation (e.g., coping with a specific illness), or at the same point in time as the critical outcome variables (e.g., employment or marital status). For example, although often reported in the literature that alexithymia is associated with social isolation and lower social success (Kauhanen et al., 1993 and Kokkonen et al., 2001), the cross-sectional nature of most of this work limits our understanding of the direction of this relationship. We do not know if the poor interpersonal abilities associated with alexithymia have had a negative influence on the individual’s social success, or whether being socially isolated and experiencing socioeconomic difficulties generates alexithymic symptomatology. The present study sought to extend our knowledge about alexithymia by studying the impact of this variable on a major life transition. The transition from high school to university is a particularly stressful situation for most young adults (Brooks and DuBois, 1995, Gall et al., 2000, Kanoy and Bruhn, 1996, McLaughlin et al., 1998, Perry et al., 2001 and Ross et al., 1999). Students making this transition face a variety of stressors: modifying existing relationships with parents, family, and friends (e.g., living apart), making new relationships, and learning study habits for the new academic environment. They must also learn to function as independent adults (e.g., budgeting time and money). It is the failure to master these types of tasks and challenges, rather than intellectual ability, which is the more common reason reported by post-secondary students for withdrawing from their institutions (Blanc et al., 1983 and Gerdes and Mallinckrodt, 1994). An important indicator of the stress of this transition is the common observation in Canada and the United States that the majority of high school students who go on to post-secondary institutions withdraw before graduation (Gerdes and Mallinckrodt, 1994 and Pancer et al., 2000). The greatest proportions of these students drop out in the first year (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994). There is some evidence in the academic achievement literature to suggest that success in making the transition to a post-secondary environment is linked with emotional competency. For example, in a recent study examining the transition from high school to university, Parker, Summerfeldt, Hogan, and Majeski (2004) found that various emotional and social competencies were predictors of academic success. They used a measure of emotional intelligence (Bar-On, 1997) that has been found to be associated with alexithymia (Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 2001). At the start of the academic term a sample of first-year (full-time) students completed the short form of the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i: Short; Bar-On, 2002). At the end of the academic year the EQ-i: Short data was matched with students’ academic records. Parker et al. (2004) found that academically successful students had significantly higher levels of several different emotional and social competencies than less successful students. These results have also been replicated in several independent samples of American post-secondary students making the transition from high-school (Parker, Duffy, Wood, Bond, & Hogan, in press). The present study examined whether alexithymia predicts academic success in young adults making the transition to a post-secondary environment. Since previous research on academic success has found that the choice of operational definition for this variable can lead to quite different outcomes (Parker et al., 2004), the present study examined various definitions of success. For example, although academic success may correlate low or non-significantly with specific predictor variables when success is operationalized as a continuous variable (e.g., GPA for the academic year), the same variables may be quite good predictors when academic success is operationalized as a categorical variable (e.g., comparing honors students vs. students on academic probation or comparing students persisting with their studies vs. students who have withdrawn).