Have you heard about Alexithymia?
Primary alexithymia is a lifelong condition, caused by childhood trauma or negative primary caregivers interactions. So primary alexithymia develops early, and becomes molded during childhood and early adult years as personality traits. Hence primary alexithymia is also called trait alexithymia.
Do you tend to forget people’s faces? That’s alexithymia. Do you not recognize that you are hungry until hours later, at which point your sugar levels have dropped and you feel sick? Yep, that’s alexithymia. Specifically, that’s diminished interoception due to alexithymia. So we may be less aware of our breathing, hunger, thirst, or our heart rate.
I feel like I can remember faces, but names elude me. Also, I tend to confuse people who have similar faces. A person who I went to school with looked really similar to a co-worker years later, and I totally had them confused. Also, I have a hard time telling when I’m hungry, and usually eat to quiet an upset stomach, which is probably caused by not eating, or not eating well (I drink a lot of coffee). But the number of times I’ve gotten upset due to low blood sugar is pretty impressive.
This seems to suggest that when you have a lower awareness of emotions in the self and others, you are less likely to be socially motivated, or maybe more likely to be put off by the social challenges. I can imagine that if you don’t have good awareness or a significant understanding of the emotions of yourself and others, you will not be interested in emotions and interacting, and are more likely focused on activities and exploring concepts.
And it’s not just cognitive empathy that is diminished by alexithymia! Research from 2018 by Cari-lène Mul et al. shows that autistic people with alexithymia have both lower cognitive and emotional empathy than autistic people without alexithymia. The research also showed that autistic people have a reduced interoceptive sensitivity (they don’t feel internal bodily sensations such as hunger as readily) which was not influenced by alexithymia, and a reduced interoceptive awareness (meaning we are less aware of the bodily signals we already feel less), which was found to be influenced by both alexithymia and empathy.