Look me in the eyes! A preliminary study on eye‐contact in adolescents with anorexia nervosa

European Eating Disorders Review(2023)

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Abstract Objective Anorexia nervosa (AN) is often associated with impairments in the socio‐emotional domain. Avoidance of eye‐contact may underlie some of these difficulties and has been found in adults with AN in several studies. This study aimed to clarify whether adolescents with AN also show reduced eye‐contact when viewing social stimuli, that is, faces. Methods In this cross‐sectional study, girls aged 12–18 years with AN ( n = 38) were compared with a clinical (girls with depression and/or anxiety disorders; n = 30) and a healthy ( n = 36) control group. Eye‐contact was operationalised as maintenance of visual attention to the eye‐area of faces showing different emotional expressions (happy, angry, afraid, sad, neutral), recorded via eye‐tracking. Results Contrary to our expectations, we did not find adolescents with AN to dwell less on the eye‐area than control groups; instead, we found preliminary evidence for increased attention to the eye‐area in the AN group compared to the healthy control group. Conclusions The results suggest that reduced eye‐contact found in adult AN samples is not (yet) present in adolescents with AN but may develop with the prolonged duration of the disorder. However, replication and longitudinal studies are needed to confirm this assumption.
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