Emotional Intelligence Training Effects on Alexithymia within a Military Sample

Lindsey Hildebrand, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States
Alisa Huskey, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States
David Negelspach, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States
William Killgore, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States


Alexithymia is characterized by an impairment in the ability to experience, recognize, or communicate one’s emotions. Alexithymia has been linked to a range of psychiatric and neurologic conditions such as autism, depression, childhood trauma, or even TBI. Opposingly, EI is defined as one’s ability to perceive, understand, and manage one’s emotions. We developed an online Emotional Intelligence Training Program (EIT) for the military to train EI. Military servicemembers often experience higher rates of emotional dysregulation and alexithymia which can result in higher likelihood of attempted suicide. We hypothesized that military personnel who were assigned to the EIT program would decrease alexithymia symptoms as a result of training.

Participants and Methods:

There were 165 (NMales= 108, NFemales= 57) reserve officer training corps (ROTC) cadets who took part in our study (Mage=20.27 SD=2.270). Study participants were randomly assigned to either the Emotional Intelligence Training Program (EIT) or the Placebo Training Program (PAT) after enrollment. The programs involved approximately 10 hours of interactive online training modules.  Over the course of three weeks, participants completed training modules within their assigned program. The Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) is a highly valid scale used to screen for alexithymia symptoms including difficulty describing feelings, identifying feelings, and externally oriented thinking. Higher scores on the TAS-20 and its subscales indicates a higher frequency in experiencing those symptoms. We conducted a mixed effects ANOVA to assess changes in interoceptive awareness pre and post program intervention (EIT and PAT).


There was a statistically significant interaction effect of program intervention on externally oriented thinking (F(1,132) = 7.506, p = .007, ηp2 = .054). Cadets assigned to the EIT program (N=67) significantly decreased in externally oriented thoughts post-training (M=18.21, SD= 4.230) compared to pre-training (M=18.99, SD=4.438) (p=.048). Additionally, we found a statistically significant difference of assigned condition on alexithymia. Cadets who were assigned to the EIT program (N=67) were significantly less likely to focus their attention externally (M=18.99, SD=4.438) compared to cadets assigned to the PAT program (N=67) after receiving training (M=20.01, SD=3.952) (p=.012).


ROTC cadets who were enrolled in the EIT program experienced a significant decrease in alexithymia symptoms related to focusing their attention externally after they received training, suggesting more directed focus on internal emotional experiences. Additionally, we found that cadets assigned in the EIT program were also significantly less likely to focus their attention externally compared to those within the PAT program after training. The relevance of these findings to suicidal ideation will need to be evaluated as well.  Future research should examine the effect EIT in improving outcomes for Servicemembers with mTBIs or other neurologic conditions that are common to military personnel. Alexithymia is reported as a frequent comorbid condition post-injury. Given the increasing number of military Servicemembers incurring mTBIs and other stress-related disorders, training EI could help facilitate recovery and increase emotional regulation.

Category: Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Keyword 1: awareness
Keyword 2: social processes