Perception of threat from emotions and its role in poor emotional expression within eating pathology

  • Ioannou K
  • Fox J
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Recent research has documented links between eating disorder (ED) symptomatology and emotional expression deficits. Relevant theoretical models have alluded to the functional role of disordered eating in alleviating affect that is felt to be otherwise unmanageable and threatening. Nevertheless, research examining ED individuals' perceptions of emotional states has been sparse, while empirical studies have predominantly focused on global conceptualizations of emotion, failing to address discrete affect states. The current study had three aims: (a) to determine the relation between ED symptomatology and emotional expression, in a sample of women with ED, in an attempt to confirm previous findings of an inverse relation; (b) to test the hypothesis that women with ED inhibit the expression of emotions perceived as threatening, by examining the relation between emotional expression and perceptions of threat from emotion, while partialling out the effects of depression; and (c) to determine whether, amongst women with ED, perceptions of threat from anger are uniquely associated with emotional inhibition, when the effects of depression and body dissatisfaction are controlled for. Results demonstrated that (a) emotional expression was negatively related with the three Eating Disorders Inventory-3 subscales (drive for thinness, bulimia and body dissatisfaction); (b) perceived threat from emotion, particularly anger, was negatively correlated with emotional expression, when depression was partialled out in the analysis; and (c) perceived threat from anger significantly and uniquely predicted emotional inhibition, over and above the effects of body dissatisfaction and depression, in a sample of women with ED symptomatology. It is suggested that anger may be perceived as particularly threatening amongst women with ED, and play a significant role in the emotional expression difficulties that this population experiences. The implications of the current findings are discussed in line with relevant theory and research, with particular reference to the new Schematic Propositional Analogical Associative Representation System for Eating Disorders (SPAARS-ED) model.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Anger
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional expression
  • Perception of threat from emotion

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  • Korina Ioannou

  • John R E Fox

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