George Rudy /Shutterstock Some folks are so emotional, we refer to them as “wearing their hearts on their sleeves.” They cry for others, they cry for themselves, they cry at movies (it’s ok, let it out—crying is actually good for you). They feel intense happiness for people’s accomplishments. They show it, and we know it. Then there are those who can be totally emotionally invested without having breakdowns. They seem to be the most grounded from afar. But what about those who show little to no emotion at all? If that question made you think of yourself, you might be expecting insight on how you can tune into your emotions better. But the reality is, you might be the most emotional of them all!
According to new research, conducted at SISSA in Trieste and published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, you may be among the 10 percent of the population with alexithymia. The psychological condition is characterized by the inability to process emotions you experience.
To better understand the condition, which makes it difficult for individuals to relay their joy, fear, disgust, anger, and so on, scientists Cinzia Cecchetto, Raffaella Rumiati, and Marilena Aiello took advantage of the close link between the perception of smells and emotions by using olfactory tests on participants.
“There is a partial overlap between the areas in our brains which deal with olfactory perception and those which process emotions. A test such as this may, therefore, be particularly suitable for studying this specific psychological condition,” said lead researcher Aiello.
The team gathered 62 individuals, dividing them into three groups depending on the extent at which they experience alexithymia (high, medium, and low), and put them through a series of olfactory tests. The researchers honed in on their reactions to different stimuli.
“The results obtained show that one of the characteristics of alexithymia is the altered physiological response to olfactory stimuli,” explain Cecchetto and Aiello.
Most interesting is the fact that such individuals aren’t actually less emotional at all, but rather more.
“Contrary to what one might expect, this study shows how the physiological reactions of alexithymic individuals to emotions induced by smells are not less but rather more intense,” explain Cecchetto and Aiello.
The researchers believe alexithymic individuals are merely misunderstood. “It is as if these subjects find themselves in a situation of perpetual, extreme activation in relation to their emotions which appears to make them insensitive to changes in them, to differences, to the color shades that enrich our daily lives. It is a counterintuitive yet particularly significant scientific observation.”
So while such individuals may seem insensitive, perhaps it’s better to understand them as quite the opposite. Though people with alexithymia are typically able to acknowledge their emotions, they just can’t seem to elaborate on them.
Perhaps the recent research’s unconventional approach utilizing the nose will help shed light on the condition, and help both those with it and those judging it, to find more appreciation in the indescribable. Find out exactly how many emotions you can feel, according to science.