European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 343–351 | Cite as

Attention networks in adolescent anorexia nervosa

  • Noam Weinbach
  • Helene Sher
  • James D. Lock
  • Avishai Henik
Original Contribution


Anorexia nervosa (AN) usually develops during adolescence when considerable structural and functional brain changes are taking place. Neurocognitive inefficiencies have been consistently found in adults with enduring AN and were suggested to play a role in maintaining the disorder. However, such findings are inconsistent in children and adolescents with AN. The current study conducted a comprehensive assessment of attention networks in adolescents with AN who were not severely underweight during the study using an approach that permits disentangling independent components of attention. Twenty partially weight-restored adolescents with AN (AN-WR) and 24 healthy adolescents performed the Attention Network Test which assesses the efficiency of three main attention networks—executive control, orienting, and alerting. The results revealed abnormal function in the executive control network among adolescents with AN-WR. Specifically, adolescents with AN-WR demonstrated superior ability to suppress attention to task-irrelevant information while focusing on a central task. Moreover, the alerting network modulated this ability. No difference was found between the groups in the speed of orienting attention, but reorienting attention to a target resulted in higher error rates in the AN-WR group. The findings suggest that adolescents with AN have attentional abnormalities that cannot be explained by a state of starvation. These attentional dysregulations may underlie clinical phenotypes of the disorder such as increased attention of details.


Anorexia nervosa Attention Alerting Orienting Executive control 



We thank Ms. Desiree Meloul for helpful comments and useful input on this article, and Ms. Yael Bar-Shachar and Ms. Michal Almasi for helping with data collection.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Child and Adolescent PsychiatryStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Eating Disorder Unit, Child and Adolescent PsychiatrySoroka Medical CenterBeer-ShevaIsrael
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and the Zlotowski Center for NeuroscienceBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer-ShevaIsrael

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