Attention Biases for Eating Disorder-Related Stimuli Versus Social Stimuli in Adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa – An Eye-Tracking Study

Research on child and adolescent psychopathology(2022)

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Anorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by attention biases for eating disorder-related information as well as altered attentional processing of social information. However, little is known about the interplay between the altered attentional processing of these two types of information. The present study investigates attention biases for eating disorder-related information (pictures of bodies) versus social information (pictures of faces), in adolescents with AN. Attention biases were assessed via eye-tracking during a passive-viewing task in which female bodies and faces were presented simultaneously and thus competed directly for attention. Female adolescents (13–18 years) with AN ( n = 28) were compared to a clinical comparison group (adolescents with major depression; n = 20) and a comparison group of adolescents with no mental illness ( n = 24). All groups looked longer at bodies than at faces, i.e., showed attention biases for bodies in maintenance of attention. These biases were more pronounced in adolescents with AN than in both comparison groups, particularly for underweight bodies, at the expense of looking less at social stimuli. The results indicate “dual” attention biases in adolescents with AN (i.e., towards bodies and away from emotional faces) which could have a twofold negative impact on eating disorder psychopathology: increased attention to eating disorder-related information might directly influence eating disorder symptoms while less attention to social information might have an indirect influence through the amplification of interpersonal difficulties.
Anorexia nervosa,Adolescence,Attention bias,Emotional faces,Body pictures
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