Selective visual attention during mirror exposure in anorexia and bulimia nervosa

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Abstract

Objective Cognitive theories suggest that body dissatisfaction results from the activation of maladaptive appearance schemata, which guide mental processes such as selective attention to shape and weight-related information. In line with this, the present study hypothesized that patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are characterized by increased visual attention for the most dissatisfying/ugly body part compared to their most satisfying/beautiful body part, while a more balanced viewing pattern was expected for controls without eating disorders (CG). Method Eye movements were recorded in a group of patients with AN (n = 16), BN (n = 16) and a CG (n = 16) in an ecologically valid setting, i.e., during a 3-min mirror exposure. Results Evidence was found that patients with AN and BN display longer and more frequent gazes towards the most dissatisfying relative to the most satisfying and towards their most ugly compared to their most beautiful body parts, whereas the CG showed a more balanced gaze pattern. Discussion The results converge with theoretical models that emphasize the role of information processing in the maintenance of body dissatisfaction. Given the etiological importance of body dissatisfaction in the development of eating disorders, future studies should focus on the modification of the reported patterns.

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Tuschen-Caffier, B., Bender, C., Caffier, D., Klenner, K., Braks, K., & Svaldi, J. (2015). Selective visual attention during mirror exposure in anorexia and bulimia nervosa. PLoS ONE, 10(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145886

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