Alexithymia, emotion dysregulation, impulsivity and aggression: A multiple mediation model

Psychiatry Res. 2016 Mar 30;237:296-303. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.01.025. Epub 2016 Jan 14.


There is a need to better understand the antecedent of aggressive behaviors in order to tailor treatments and reduce the associated damage to the others and the self. Possible mechanisms underlying aggression are poor emotional awareness and emotion dysregulation, as well as impulsivity. Here, we examined the relationships among alexithymia, emotion dysregulation, impulsivity and aggression, comparing a mixed psychiatric sample (N=257) and a community sample (N=617). The clinical sample reported greater levels of alexithymia, emotion dysregulation, trait impulsivity and aggression, than the community sample. Furthermore, in the community sample, emotion dysregulation and impulsivity mediated the relationship (i.e., accounted for the shared variance) between alexithymia and aggression. In the clinical sample, only emotion dysregulation explained the alexithymia-aggression link. In particular, specific dimensions of the emotion dysregulation (i.e., Negative Urgency) and impulsivity constructs (i.e., cognitive and motor impulsivity) played a unique role in explaining these associations. Finally, controlling for depressive symptoms reduced some of the findings involving impulsivity to nonsignificant results. Overall, our findings add to the extant literature attesting to the relevance of alexithymia and emotion dysregulation for understanding aggression, and providing concrete recommendation for the treatment and prevention of aggressive tendencies.

Keywords: Aggression; Alexithymia; Emotion dysregulation; Impulsivity; Psychopathology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology*
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Inpatients
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self-Control*