I Can’t Understand You, Because I Can’t Understand Myself: The Interplay between Alexithymia, Excessive Social Media Use, Empathy, and Theory of Mind



Theory of Mind, empathy, social media use, social networks, social anxiety


Social media represent a relatively new phenomenon affecting the lives of people across the globe. Recently, the number of social media users reached billions, and this number increases every year. Previous studies indicated that excessive social media use may have adverse effects on mental and physical health. Therefore, it is important to explore what psychological factors may contribute to the excessive use of social media. It was found that social anxiety and alexithymia are robust predictors of excessive social media use. However, little is known about the role of empathy and Theory of Mind (ToM) in excessive social media use. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to examine the mediating effect of empathy and ToM in the relationship between alexithymia and social anxiety. Collectively, 1737 subjects participated in the study (Mage = 25.28, SDage = 10, Females: 60.83%). We assessed empathy, social anxiety, ToM, loneliness, and excessive social media use. Structural Equation Modelling was used to test the mediating effect of empathy and ToM. It was revealed that there is a positive relationship between difficulty in identifying feelings (alexithymia) and social anxiety: B = 0.53 (95% CI [0.41 – 0.65], p < .001). Moreover, a significant positive association was found between social anxiety and excessive social media use: B = 0.28, 95% CI [0.14 – 0.37], p < 0.001. However, loneliness was unrelated to social media use. Similarly, there was no significant mediating effect of empathy and ToM on the link between difficulty in identifying feelings and social anxiety. Future research should examine the generalizability of our findings using different cultural/linguistic environments. The primary limitation of the study is the use of cross-sectional data which prevent to draw causal links between the explored relationships.