Psychological explanations for anorexia nervosa

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  • Created by: KCharlish
  • Created on: 03-01-16 20:57

Cultural ideals

Cultural ideals

Western standards of attractiveness are thought to contribute to body disatisfaction, a distorted body image and AN. Gregory et al found that in the UK 16% of girls aged 15 - 18 were dieting.


IDA - Ethical issues in AN research...

Researchers are increasingly using anorexia chat rooms to gain qualitative data from those who have AN. This creates ethical issues for the researcher e.g. invasion of privacy, lack of informed consent and a breach of confidentiality.

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Media influences

The portrayal of thin models on the tv and in magazines is a significant factor in body image concerns and the drive for thinness among Western adolescent girls.

Jones and Buckingham found people with low self esteem are more likely to compare themselves to idealised images portrayed in the media. 

There is research support...

Becker - Fijian girls - after the introduction of television to the island these girls stated a desire to lose weight and be more like the women they saw on western tv.


Research has shown instructional intervention prior to media exposure to idealised female images prevents the adverse effects of media influences (Yamamiya et al)

IDA - Real world application

Because the media has such a powerful influence on eating behaviour in young people, the fashion industry has responded by pledging for use of other body types.

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Other cultural groups place less emphasis on thinness in women, e.g. the incidence of AN in non western cultures and black populations is much lower. 

In many non western cultures there are more positive attitudes toward large body sizes which are associated with attractiveness and fertility (Pollack)

Not all research supports ethnic differences in AN...

Cachelin and Regan found no significant differences in the incidence of disordered eating in African American and Caucasian participants. 

Roberts et al found that ethnic differences were only found for older adolescents.

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Peer influences

Eisenberg et al. found that dieting among friends was related to unhealthy weight control behaviours.

Teasing about overweight girls or underweight boys may serve to enforce gender based ideals concerning weight. 


Not all researrch supports the role of peer influences in AN...

Shroff and Thompson found no correlation among friends on measures of disordered eating in an adolescent sample.


Jones and Crawford did find support for the claim that overweight girls and underweight boys are more likely to be teased and so they develop disordered eating patterns. These gender differences did not emerge until adolescence. 

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Bruch's psychodynamic theory

Distinguished between effective parents who respond to their child's needs and ineffective parents who fail to respond appropriately.

Children of ineffective parents grow up confused about their internal needs and become overly reliant on their parents.

During adolesence these children strive for independance but are unable to achieve this without taking excessive control over their body shape and developing abnormal eating habits. 


There is support for this theory...

Steiner found that parents of adolescents with AN had a tendency to define their childrens needs rather than letting thrm define their own needs. This supports the claim that children of ineffective parents become overly reliant on their parents to identify their own needs.

Button and Warren examined a group of AN sufferers 7 years after they were diagnosed with the eating disorder. These individuals relied excessively on the opinions of others and felt a lack of control in their lives.

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Two personality characteristics: 

  • Perfectionism - concern for mistakes 
  • Impulsiveness

Strober et al found high levels of of perfectionism in 73% of girls and 50% of boys with AN.

Butler and Montgomery found that patients with AN responded more rapidly and inaccurately on a task that did a control group. 

There is support for this perfectionism claim...

Halmi et al found that women with a history of AN scored higher on a scale of perfectionism, and the extent of perfectionism was directly related to the severity of AN experienced by these women.

A genetic explanation for the AN/perfectionism link...

Halmi et al also studied the relatives of individuals with AN, and found that perfectionism as a trait appears to run in families. This suggests perfectionism represents a genetic vunerability for the development of AN. 

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