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Alexithymia in parents and adolescent anorexic daughters: comparing the responses to TSIA and TAS-20 scales

Authors Balottin L, Nacinovich R, Bomba M, Mannarini S

Received 13 May 2014

Accepted for publication 24 June 2014

Published 9 October 2014 Volume 2014:10 Pages 1941—1951


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Laura Balottin,1 Renata Nacinovich,2 Monica Bomba,2 Stefania Mannarini1

1Interdepartmental Center of Family Research, Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education, and Applied Psychology, Section of Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy; 2Childhood and Adolescence Neuropsychiatric Unit, San Gerardo Hospital, University of Milan-Bicocca, Monza, Italy

Background: A growing body of literature has been focusing on individual alexithymia in anorexia nervosa, while there are only scarce and conflicting studies on alexithymia in the families of anorexic patients, despite the important role played by family dynamics in the development of the anorexic disorder, especially in adolescent patients. The aim of this study is to assess alexithymia in anorexic adolescent patients and in their parents using a multimethod measurement to gain more direct, in-depth knowledge of the problem.
Methods: Forty-six subjects, anorexic adolescent patients and their parents, underwent the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) along with the Toronto Structured Interview for Alexithymia (TSIA), which represents the first comprehensive clinically structured interview focused specifically on assessing alexithymia. The use of latent trait Rasch analysis allowed a comparison of the two instruments’ sensitivity and ability to detect the presence and intensity of alexithymic components in patients and parents.
Results: Significant discordance was found between the two measures. The clinical instrument allowed detection of a greater level of alexithymia compared with the self-report, in particular in our adult parent sample. Moreover, a significant alexithymic gap emerged within families, particularly within parental couples, with noticeably more alexithymic fathers compared with the mothers.
Conclusion: The TSIA clinical interview may be a more sensitive instrument in detecting alexithymia, minimizing parents’ negation tendency. Clinical questions have arisen on how useful it would be to give greater weight to family functioning (ie, alexithymic gap) in order to predict the possibility of establishing a therapeutic alliance, and thus the outcome of the anorexic adolescent.

Keywords: anorexia, adolescence, family, Toronto Structured Interview for Alexithymia, Toronto Alexithymia Scale, Rasch model

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