Biases in attention and memory for body shape images in eating disorders
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To investigate attentional and memorial biases towards body shape pictures among female patients with clinical eating disorders and healthy female controls.
A visual dot-probe task was used to assess attention towards pictures reflecting either a thin, normal, or obese female body shape. Pictures were presented in pairs; each pair depicted two different body shapes and were presented twice. Participant responses were compared across time and population.
Overall, the eating disorder patients responded more slowly than controls, F(1,63) = 20.32, p < .001. Both groups showed an attentional bias towards the larger of two body shapes, F(1,63) = 4.30, p = .04, and responded more quickly the second time they viewed the picture pairs, F(1,63) = 33.80, p < .001. Upon second viewing of picture pairs, the eating disorder patients had a larger decrease in reaction time (86 ms) than the control sample (33 ms) only when both pictures included extreme body shapes (thin and obese); the decrease in reaction time when one of the pictures included a normal body shape was the same across groups upon second viewing (eating disorder: 37 ms; control: 32 ms), F(1,63) = 9.32, p = .003.
These findings suggest that individuals with eating disorders may be biased towards recall of dichotomous and/or extreme body shape images. While it remains unclear whether attentional and/or memorial bias is a risk, maintenance, or causal factor in eating disorders, future studies should employ longitudinal, prospective research designs to address these questions.
Level of Evidence
Level II, comparative study.
KeywordsAttentional bias Memorial bias Dot probe Eating disorders
All authors contributed substantially to the concept, design, analysis, and interpretation of the data presented in the manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
All procedures performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board (approval number: 2013-008; date: 11/8/2012) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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