Sensation seeking positively correlates with participation in high-risk activities (Zuckerman, 1979; Zuckerman et al., 1964) and with reckless behaviors (Arnett, 1996). Those kinds of behaviors are dangerous for both the individual and the society especially when it is coupled with a psychological disorder. Alexithymia is a personality construct defined by difficulty dealing with feelings and emotions (Taylor et al, 1997). According to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988) parental rearing behaviors are an important aspect in the psycho-emotional construction of the self and the other, as individuals regulate affects with their caregivers during the earlier stages of their life. Moreover there is evidence to support the notion that alexithymia is correlated in risktaking behaviors (Cazenave et al., 2006), but the association with parental rearing behaviors have not been addressed yet. Thus, we hypothesized that women who are likely to take risk (high score on the Sensation Seeking Scale) will scored higher on the Toronoto Alexithymia Scale and will retrospectively describe their parents displaying more reject and harsh control than the other women; and that alexithymia will be significantly correlated with a negative perception in women’s risk taking behaviors.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between parental rearing, alexithymia, and sensation seeking in women. Sensation seeking, defined by Zuckerman (1979, p. 10) as a “need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience”, positively correlates with participation in high-risk behaviors. High score on the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS: Zuckerman et al., 1964) is significantly related with reckless behaviors (Arnett, 1996). This kind of risktaking behavior is obviously very dangerous for both the individual and the society especially when it is coupled with a psychological disorder. Alexithymia is a personality construct defined by: 1) difficulty to identify and describe feelings, 2) difficulty to distinguish feelings from bodily sensations of emotion arousal, 3) impoverishment of fantasy life, and 4) focusing on concrete aspects of external events (Taylor et al, 1997). According to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988) individuals develop an attachment style during the early stages of their life. As children experiment and regulate affects with their caregivers, parental rearing behaviors are an important aspect in the psycho-emotional construction of the self and the other. Moreover there is evidence to support the notion that alexithymia is correlated in risk-taking behaviors (Cazenave et al., 2006), but the association with parental rearing behaviors have not been addressed yet in this domain of research. Thus, we hypothesized that women who are likely to take risk (high score on SSS) will scored higher on the alexithymia scale and will retrospectively describe their parents displaying more reject and harsh control than the other women; and that alexithymia will be significantly correlated with a negative perception (rejection, overprotection) in women’s risk taking behaviors.
Material and Method
Participants The total sample included 26 women (MSSS = 23.06 ± 6.83), from Paris (France) and its inner suburbs. Group 1 (control group: Myear = 21 ± 2.34) is composed of 14 women who have low scores on the SSS: M1SSS ≤ 15. Group 2 (test group: Myear = 21 ± 3.07) is composed of 12 women who have high scores on the SSS: M2SSS ≥ 30. Measures The Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS: Zuckerman et al., 1964), validated in French by Carton et al. (1990), is used to measure individual tendencies for sensation seeking. This measurement scale has 40 forced-choice items which are divided into four dimensions, each with 10 items (Thrill and Adventure Seeking, TAS; Experience Seeking, ES; Disinhibition, Dis; Boredom Susceptibility, BS). The Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20: Bagby et al., 1994), validated in French by Loas et al. (1997), has 20 items subdivided into three subcategories congruent with the concept of alexithymia: Factor 1 (F-1), difficulty in identifying one’s feelings and distinguishing them from bodily sensations of emotion arousal; Factor 2 (F-2), difficulty in describing one’s feelings to others; Factor 3 (F-3), externally oriented thinking. The Egna Minnen Beträffende Uppfostran (EMBU, Swedish acronym for own memories concerning upbringing: Perris et al., 1980), validated in French by Delforge et al. (2003), is a self report scale assessing parental rearing behavior. The 21 items are allocated to three subscales: rejection (R); overprotection (O), and emotional warmth (EW). Procedure Participants were all volunteers to take part of this anonymous and confidential study. Results were analyzed with Statistica. We performed analyses of variance (ANOVAs) to assess if the groups were different on the independent variables, and regression analyses to verify if sensation seeking predicts alexithymia, and to assess the type of parental rearing behavior in predicting the value of the total alexithymia score.
The percentage of alexithymic’s women was 5.7% for the first group and 27.9% for the second one. The results of the ANOVAs who revealed significant differences between the two groups are reported in Table 1.
Table 1 Tests of ANOVAs among the scales end subscales of the TAS-20 and the EMBU
The overall equation of the analyses of regression was significant: R² = 0.754, F(7, 18) = 20,71, P<0.001. The predictors of the total alexithymia score were the total sensation seeking score: β = 0.607, P<0.05; the mother and the father emotional warmth subscales of the EMBU: β = -0.342 and -0.309, P<0.05; and the mother rejection subscale of the EMBU: β = 0.478.
As expected, the results confirmed the assumptions that women who have a high score on the Sensation Seeking Scale (Group 2) would scored higher on the alexithymia scale than those who have a low score on SSS (Group 1). The data also supported that Group 2 would retrospectively describe their parents displaying more reject and harsh control, but significant differences were only found on the mother and the father emotional warmth subscales and on the mother rejection subscale. The results demonstrate that those parental rearing behaviors are linked to alexithymia and that the first variable could predicts the other one. Thus, women who report rejection from their mother are more likely to present psychological troubles like alexithymia than those who report emotional warmth from their parents. Neglects in childhood, communicate by the mother, could have disastrous consequences in women’s behaviors, especially when they need to experiment high sensations in their daily actions. On the contrary, emotional warmth express by both parents allow children to have a substantial emotional stability.
It could be interesting to precise these relations between sensation seeking, emotional disturbances, and parental rearing behaviors in cases studies of women who take high risk. Futures researches on reckless behaviors (car driving, alcoholism, drug addiction, risk-taking sports…) must take into account that risk taking could be a contra-depressive behavior used to experiment and regulate emotions.
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