Seeing oneself as an unattractive loser: Similar interpretation and memory biases in adolescents with anorexia nervosa and adolescents with depression or anxiety


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ObjectiveAnorexia nervosa (AN) is characterised by dysfunctional cognitive biases but these have rarely been investigated in adolescents with AN. The present study systematically assessed cognitive biases in adolescents with AN and addressed the questions of content-specificity (i.e., do biases occur only for eating disorder-related information?) and disorder-specificity (i.e., are biases unique to individuals with AN?).MethodsCognitive biases on three information processing levels (attention, interpretation, memory) and for two types of information content (eating disorder-related, non-eating disorder-related) were assessed within a single experimental paradigm based on the Scrambled Sentences Task. 12-18-year-old adolescents with AN (n = 40) were compared to a healthy (HC; n = 40) and a clinical (girls with depression and/or anxiety disorders; CC; n = 34) control group.ResultsBoth clinical groups (AN and CC) showed pronounced negative interpretation and memory biases compared to the HC group, for both disorder-related and non-disorder-related information. Attention biases could not be analysed.ConclusionThe results support the hypothesis that adolescents with AN show negative cognitive biases but these were not limited to disorder-related information. Adolescents with depression and/or anxiety disorders showed similar biases, suggesting them to be transdiagnostic phenomena. Important implications for cognitive-behavioural theories of AN, subsequent cognitive bias modification studies in AN, as well as clinical practice are discussed. Adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa show more pronounced negative interpretation and memory biases for eating disorder-related and more general negative information compared to adolescent girls with no mental illness. Adolescents with anorexia nervosa and adolescents with depression and/or anxiety disorders showed similar levels of the cognitive biases regardless the content (eating disorder-related and non-eating disorder-related). Transdiagnostic factors such as low self-esteem or body dissatisfaction may play an important role in explaining cognitive biases in youth with mental illness.
adolescence,cognitive biases,eating disorders,negative biases,youth
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