Psychological explanations for Anorexia Nervosa

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Cultural ideals

Cultural ideals:

It is thought that western standards of attractiveness are a major contributory factor to the development of AN. Gregory et al 2000 found that 16% of girls aged 15-18 were dieting in the UK.


Hoek et al 1998 wanted to prove that AN was very rare in non western cultures. Examined records of 44,192 people admited to hospital between 1987 and 1989 in Curacao. Only 6 cases were found to be anorexic. (,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/1389075915565038227.png)

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Media influences

Media influences:

The media does not influence everyone in the same way, however the portrayal of models in Magazines, the tv and so on, are thought to be a major contributary factor in the development of AN in the western world. Jones and Buckingham 2005, found it is those with low self esteem that are most likely to complare them selves to idealised images portrayed in the media. Hilde Bruch 1973, suggested that the origins of AN are from early childhood and ineffective parenting. For example when a baby cried the mother may give it food, when infact it is anxious not hungry and just needs comforting. This is thought to cause confusion for the child as it grows up, leaving them dependant on their mothers and begin to feel helpless. 


Becker et al 1995 Carried out research in an area of the world where TV hadnt been introduced, and she studdied the effects it had on people when it was. Fijian girls were assesed before and after, their veiws and number of eating disorders increased after the introduction. 

IDA- Due to the huge negative effects of the media on young women, France are now promoting the use of diverse body types in advertisement etc and not portray a 'thin ideal.' 

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Some other cultural groups place less emphasis on the face women must be skinny. In many cases there are positive attitudes towards larger body sizes as they are associated with fertility and attractiveness. Meta analysis of 98 studies, (Grabe and Hyde) found that between African-American, Caucasian and Hispanic females the least body disatisfaction between the African-Americans. 


Some studies contradicted this view, Cachelin and Regan 2006 found no significant difference between Caucasians and African-American participants for prevelance of dieting. 

Roberts et al found that the differences only true in older adolescents. 

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Peer influences

  • Very important in adolescence.
  • Eisenberg et al 2005 found that dieting amoung friends was related to unhelathy wieght control behaviours such as the use of diet pills or purging.
  • People that do not may get teased, Jones and Crawford 2006. (overwight girls and underweight boys). 


Shroff and Thompson 2006 found no correlation between friends on measures of disordered eating in an adolescence sample. It has been shown to start at 10 years old and above Lunde et al.


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A perfectionism trait is often found in individuals with AN and other eating disorders according to Strober et al 2006 found levels of perfectionism in girls as 73% and boys 50% (these are people being treated for AN). 


Halmi et al- 

  • 322 female participants
  • Relationship between AN and perfectionism across Europe and US. 
  • Found that people who had suffered for AN scoered significantly higher on the multidimensional perfectionism scale than 'normal' women, and the severity of the 2 correlate aswell.
  • A genetic link seems to be evident .

Nilsson et al 1999, found that people with a short term AN problem would be less of a perfectionist and vice versa. 

Impulsiveness is also thought to be a trait of people with AN according to Butler and Montgomery. They found that people with AN are more likely to respond more rapidly yet more inaccurately on a task than the control group did.

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Clinical Characteristics of AN

  • Anxiety- Excessive fear of being fat, not absessed with weight but do not want to be fat
  • Weight- Abnormal when below 85% of normal body weight. Repeatedly check weight and excercise excessively.
  • Body image distortion- Dont see own thinness and they deny an issue, thinness is vital for self esteem.
  • Amenorrhoea- Menustration stops. No period for more than 3 months, this is due to inadequate nutrition.


Ethicl issues in rsarching, the best way is to go online, however confidentiality and informed consent is an issue. 

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