Background: Emotional awareness deficit may play a critical role in the production and maintenance of obsessive-compulsive symptoms and social dysfunction in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The aim of this study was to investigate characteristics of emotional awareness such as empathy and alexithymia in OCD patients. In addition, we examined whether impaired emotional awareness measured by self-assessment questionnaires was associated with emotional facial recognition ability in OCD patients.
Methods: Study participants included 107 patients with OCD and 130 healthy age- and sex-matched volunteers. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 were applied as measures of empathy and alexithymia. A subset of 56 patients with OCD additionally performed the emotional perception task of face expression.
Results: Patients with OCD scored significantly lower for perspective taking, and significantly higher for personal distress of IRI, and significantly higher for alexithymia compared to normal controls. Impaired emotional awareness such as lower perspective taking and fantasy seeking had a perception bias towards disgust in response to ambiguous facial expressions in OCD patients.
Limitations: The OCD group consisted of patients in different stages of the illness and with different degrees of severity.
Conclusions: OCD involves the impairment of emotional awareness and perception and it may relate to social dysfunction and to impairments in the ability to shift naturally from obsessive thoughts to other thoughts in response to social situations in patients with OCD.
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