Cognitive aetiologies of Anorexia Nervosa


Cognitive distortions & negative self-schemas

  • This theory explains Anorexia in terms of distorted and irrational thought processes that surround their WEIGHT and FOOD, such as:
  • All or nothing extreme thinking: e.g. 'Food with fat in is bad and must not be eaten'
  • Interpreting other's behaviour as directly related to themsleves: e.g. 'Those people must be talking about me'
  • Catastrophising: e.g. 'If i eat that cake, it will make me fat'
  • These distorted thought proceses lead to STRICT, inflexible dietary rules
  • Sticking to these rules decreases anxiety
  • If these rules are broken, the sufferer will experience a sense of failure and a decrease in self-esteem
  • Anorexics tend to have negative self-schemas: inaccurate body perceptions and only pay attention to information that supporrts this view
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Harari et al: Computer 3D body images

  • Used a computer program to assess an anorexic's self image
  • 3D scanner gives a real, accurate and likelike patient image 
  • Patients are then able to adjust images to meet their self-percieved body image 
  • 70% chose an image with a stimulated visual weight gain  of about 20%
  • NONE of them could pick out their real body image
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Suchan et al: Estimating body size

  • Asked Ps to assess their own body image/shape/ size
  • Their self-assessments were then compared to assessments given by 10 independent raters 
  • Anorexic women: overestimated body size
  • Healthy contol women: understimated  body size
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Cognitive bias & Stroop task

  • Sufferers also develop this.
  • Where attention  is directed towards information relating to food andbody size
  • A stroop study involved participants being shown lists of words in different colours and they have to say what colour the word is 
  • Participants with Anorexia take longer to do this with words relating to food and weight  than for neutral words
  • This is because our brain work on the meaning of a word, before the colour
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Perfectionist personality

  • Anorexics are found to have higher scores on perfectionsim tests than control groups
  • As perfectionism levels increase, so does the severity of the Anorexia symptoms
  • Tends to run in families which would usually indicate genetics...
  • Maybe it is the increase in risk of developing a personality type that is a risk factor
  • Researchers investigated cases of Anorexic boys and girls and found high levels of perfectionism in their past (73% for girls, 50% for boys)

:) Perfectionism is pre-dated: so it is notsymptom of the disorder 

:( Retrospective, subjective qualitative data: issues of accuracy and reliability 

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  • Theories of cognitive distortions, negative self-schemas and cognitive bias help our understanding of how an eating disorder affects cognitive functions not the causes
  • There is evidence of a perfectionist personality causing Anoreixa but more research would need to be carried out 
  • It may be that a perferctionist personality leads to the three effects listed above when present among other causes, such as a genetic predisposition, a damaged lateral hypothalamus or through media influence 
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