Date of Award

Winter 2003

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Committee Director

Barbara Cubic

Committee Member

Barbara A. Winstead

Committee Member

Richard W. Handel

Committee Member

Robin J. Lewis

Committee Member

Karen B. White


Alexithymia, a term referring to deficits in ability to describe and differentiate emotions, has been studied in a variety of Caucasian medical and psychiatric populations, including patients with eating disorders. Research suggests that alexithymia is more prevalent among the Caucasian eating disordered population than the general population. However, there is little research on the prevalence of alexithymia or its relationship to problematic eating-related attitudes and behaviors in African Americans. This study investigated and compared the occurrence of alexithymia and its effects on eating-related attitudes and behaviors in Caucasian and African American college women using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 and the Eating Disorders Inventory, 2nd edition. Depression, measured by the Beck Depression Inventory, 2nd edition, and acculturation, measured by the African American Acculturation Scale-Revised, were also considered as variables hypothesized to affect the occurrence and presentation of alexithymia and eating-related pathology.

Data from 171 female students, 91 African American and 80 Caucasian, indicated that alexithymia was equally prevalent among the groups (12.1% of African Americans and 11.25% of Caucasians). Approximately 16.25% of Caucasian students and 6.6% of African American (6.6%) students were suspected of having a clinical eating disorder. In this sample, alexithymia was associated with psychological correlates of eating disorders, such as depression, ineffectiveness, interpersonal distrust, maturity fears, poor impulse regulation, and social insecurity, but not with the cardinal features of eating disorders, such as drive for thinness, binging and purging, and body dissatisfaction. Ethnic differences were apparent in eating-related attitudes and behaviors. Despite being heavier, African American students had less body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness than Caucasian students. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of depressive symptoms for the ethnic groups in this study, with depression affecting 35% of the Caucasian and 21% of the African American samples. Results from this sample of university students suggested that African American students were as likely as Caucasian students to engage in bulimic behaviors, and to have difficulty recognizing and accurately responding to their emotional states, and differentiating affective from bodily sensations.


A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculties of The College of William and Mary, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology through the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology.


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