, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1644–1652 | Cite as

Emotional Understanding: Examining Alexithymia as a Mediator of the Relationship Between Mindfulness and Empathy

  • Helen Z. MacDonaldEmail author
  • Jennifer L. Price


The positive mental health correlates of mindfulness have become increasingly well-established. Recent literature has documented an association between the present-moment awareness and attention that is characteristic of mindfulness, and the capacity to adopt the emotions, cognitions, and perspectives of another individual, as displayed in empathy. The mechanisms underlying this relationship, however, are still poorly understood. This study aimed to examine alexithymia—or the difficulty identifying, labeling, understanding, and processing one’s own emotions—as a mediator of the relationship between five facets of dispositional mindfulness (i.e., observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudging, and nonreacting) and empathy in a sample of 616 undergraduate college students. Results revealed that alexithymia mediated the relationships between the describing and acting with awareness domains of mindfulness and cognitive empathy, while accounting for the effects of the other mindfulness subscales and participant sex. These findings suggest that the relationship between specific mindfulness skills and greater understanding of another individual’s emotional and cognitive experiences may be explained in part by one’s emotional self-awareness.


Mindfulness Empathy Alexithymia College students 


Author Contributions

HZM: collaborated on designing and executing the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. JLP: collaborated on designing and executing the study, collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethnical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEmmanuel CollegeBostonUSA
  2. 2.Georgetown CollegeGeorgetownUSA

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