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Alexithymia in a Self Determination Theory Framework: The interplay of Psychological Basic Needs, Parental Autonomy Support and Psychological Control

Abstract

Researchers have become increasingly interested in deepening their understanding of the role of social environments in alexithymia—a difficulty in identifying one’s and others’ emotions—suggesting the importance of an in-depth study of the interplay with perceived parental practices. Drawing on the self-determination theory (SDT) framework, the current study sought to test a model in which the relationship between young adults’ perceptions of autonomy support and psychological support and alexithymia, was mediated by the satisfaction and the frustration of psychological basic needs. Questionnaires were administered to 205 young adults aged between 18 and 30 years, of Italian nationality (54% students) and currently living with parents to measure autonomy support, psychological control, basic psychological needs and alexithymia. The findings confirmed that higher alexithymia was associated with lower need satisfaction and higher need frustration. The results of this study showed that the model was consistent with the hypothesised mediating role for need satisfaction and need frustration in the relationship between parental practices and alexithymia. Specifically, need satisfaction has shown a mediation role in the relation between maternal support and alexithymia, whilst need frustration has shown a mediation role in the relation between maternal and paternal supportive parenting and alexithymia. The results of the present study highlighted that perceived dysfunctional parental practices are significantly associated with poorer self- and other-awareness of emotions. The implications of the findings and detailed information on the study implications for further empirical investigations and clinical interventions are discussed.

Highlights

  • Frustrated needs related to higher alexithymia in emerging adults.

  • Autonomy-supportive parenting may offset alexithymia in emerging adults.

  • Parental practices and basic needs are linked during emerging adulthood.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author.

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Correspondence to Nadia Barberis.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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 study was conducted in accordance with the recommendations of the Ethical Code of the Italian Association of Psychology (AIP). The protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Centre for Research and Psychological Intervention of the University of Messina.

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Barberis, N., Cannavò, M., Cuzzocrea, F. et al. Alexithymia in a Self Determination Theory Framework: The interplay of Psychological Basic Needs, Parental Autonomy Support and Psychological Control. J Child Fam Stud (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02303-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02303-3

Keywords

  • Alexithymia
  • Needs
  • Parental Support
  • Parental Control
  • Self-Determination Theory