[Relationships between emotional intelligence, alexithymia and interpersonal delinquent behaviour in a sample of high-school students]

C Berastegui, N van Leeuwen, H Chabrol
L'Encéphale 2012, 38 (5): 426-32

INTRODUCTION: A positive link between alexithymia and delinquency, as well as a negative link between alexithymia and emotional intelligence, has already been demonstrated. Previous studies have highlighted that emotional intelligence is associated with antisocial behaviour. Even though the frequency of alexithymia has been explored in non-clinical samples of adolescents, the relationship between alexithymia and delinquency has not been studied in community samples of adolescents. Furthermore, the link between alexithymia, emotional intelligence and interpersonal delinquency has never been explored in such a sample. The aim of the current study was to explore the relationship between alexithymia, emotional intelligence and interpersonal delinquency in a sample of high-school students.

METHOD: A sample of 176 high school students (98 girls and 78 boys; mean age=16.6±0.77) completed self-report questionnaires. Interpersonal delinquency was measured using self-report delinquency questionnaires. The answers are rated on a 5-point scale (from 0 times to 5 or more times) depending on the frequency of the involvement during the past year. Alexithymia was assessed using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20; Bagby et al., 1994 [14]). Three specific dimensions of alexithymia can be assessed: the difficulty to identify feelings, the difficulty to describe feelings, and the externally-oriented cognitive style (α=.71; α=.60, α=.43, respectively). Emotional intelligence was assessed using the French version of the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Adolescent Short Form (TEIQue-ASF).

RESULTS: Among participants with a moderate to high level of interpersonal delinquent behaviour, boys presented significantly higher scores on the total TAS score than boys with a lower level of delinquent behaviour. This difference was almost significant among girls. Among boys and girls, only the score on the "difficulty to identify feelings" subscale was significantly higher in the group with a moderate to high level of delinquent behaviour. There was no significant difference in TEIque-ASF total score depending on the gender. As boys reported a higher level of interpersonal delinquency than girls, regression analysis was conducted for males and females separately. Alexithymia and emotional intelligence were entered in both analyses. These variables explained 12% of the variance in interpersonal delinquency among boys (F (7, 110)<6.08, P<.05), and 6% among girls, (F (7, 110)<4.02, P<.05). Alexithymia was the only significant predictor of interpersonal delinquency for both genders. A second multiple regression analysis was conducted using the three subscales of the TAS-20 (Difficulty to identify feelings; Difficulty to describe feelings; Externally-oriented cognitive style). These variables explained 7% of the variance in interpersonal delinquency among boys (F (7, 110)<2.87, P<.05), and 8% among girls, (F (7, 110)<3.79, P<.05). The difficulty to identify feelings was the only significant predictor of interpersonal delinquency.

DISCUSSION: In line with previous studies, emotional intelligence was linked to delinquent behaviour. The results of the current study show that only alexithymia, especially the difficulty to identify feelings, and to distinguish them from bodily sensations, was significantly linked to interpersonal delinquency among both girls and boys. Difficulty to identify feelings, especially when cognitive treatment is required, could be the root cause of dysfunctional behaviours. As a consequence, individuals are led "to outsource their internal tensions" by dysfunctional behaviours such as delinquency.

CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest the importance of taking into account the emotional dimensions in the care of teenagers presenting antisocial behaviours. It appears of prime importance to lead young people presenting antisocial behaviours to identify their feelings.

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