Investigating vulnerability to eating disorders: biases in emotional processing.
Pringle A., Harmer CJ., Cooper MJ.
BACKGROUND: Biases in emotional processing and cognitions about the self are thought to play a role in the maintenance of eating disorders (EDs). However, little is known about whether these difficulties exist pre-morbidly and how they might contribute to risk. METHOD: Female dieters (n=82) completed a battery of tasks designed to assess the processing of social cues (facial emotion recognition), cognitions about the self [Self-Schema Processing Task (SSPT)] and ED-specific cognitions about eating, weight and shape (emotional Stroop). The 26-item Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26; Garner et al. 1982) was used to assess subclinical ED symptoms; this was used as an index of vulnerability within this at-risk group. RESULTS: Regression analyses showed that biases in the processing of both neutral and angry faces were predictive of our measure of vulnerability (EAT-26). In the self-schema task, biases in the processing of negative self descriptors previously found to be common in EDs predicted vulnerability. Biases in the processing of shape-related words on the Stroop task were also predictive; however, these biases were more important in dieters who also displayed biases in the self-schema task. We were also able to demonstrate that these biases are specific and separable from more general negative biases that could be attributed to depressive symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that specific biases in the processing of social cues, cognitions about the self, and also about eating, weight and shape information, may be important in understanding risk and preventing relapse in EDs.