Hungry for reward: How can neuroscience inform the development of treatment for Anorexia Nervosa?
Park RJ., Godier LR., Cowdrey FA.
Dysfunctional reward from the pursuit of thinness presents a major challenge to recovery from Anorexia Nervosa (AN). We explore the neuroscientific basis of aberrant reward in AN, with the aim of generating novel hypotheses for translational investigation, and elucidate disease mechanisms to inform the development of targeted interventions. Relevant neuroimaging and behavioural studies are reviewed. These suggest that altered eating in AN may be a consequence of aberrant reward processing combined with exaggerated cognitive control. We consider evidence that such aberrant reward processing is reflected in the compulsive behaviours characterising AN, with substantial overlap in the neural circuits implicated in reward processing and compulsivity. Drawing on contemporary neuroscientific theories of substance dependence, processes underpinning the shift from the initially rewarding pursuit of thinness to extreme and compulsive weight control behaviours are discussed. It is suggested that in AN, weight loss behaviour begins as overtly rewarding, goal-directed and positively reinforced, but over time becomes habitual and increasingly negatively reinforced. Excessive habit formation is suggested as one underlying mechanism perpetuating compulsive behaviour. Ongoing research into the behavioural and neural basis of aberrant reward in AN is required to further elucidate mechanisms. We discuss clinical and transdiagnostic implications, and propose that future treatment innovation may benefit from the development of novel interventions targeting aberrant reward processing in AN.