Anorexia Nervosa Psychological explanations


Anorexia Nervosa - eating disorder, obsessed with losing weight through self starvation.

Means- nervous loss of appetitie

90% of cases are female although inreasing in males.

Typical age of onset is between 13-18

Psychological explanations

Behaviourist explanation-

SLT, cultural ideals and the role of the media

In western culturtes there is a heavy emphasis on 'thinness' being 'ideal' in the media- slim is beautiful. This can result in the development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Has been suggested that anorexia is a learned behaviour in response to cultural ideals and that dieting is considered to be normal in Western cultures. Studies have reported that many teenagers especially girls are dissatified with their weight and have distorted body imade. Gregory et al (2000) found that 16% of 15-18 year olds said that they were on a diet.

Social learning theory suggests that people observe and imitate people that they admire. Young women observe female role models in the media being positively rewarded for being extremely thin and attractive; gaining social approval and media attention. These women pay attention to these role models and form a mental representation that they will receive a similar reward if they copy the same behaviour. Thus they imitate role models with thye expectation of reinforcement. this can explain why in western cultures anorexia may develop.

supporting research evidence-

Alberge (1999) found a high incidence of anorexia in ballet dancers and models. This supports the role of the media and social learning theory in the development of anorexia.

Fearn(1999)- reported an increase in eating disorders in Figi following the introduction of American TV programmes which amphasised a westernised idealised body shape. This provides support for the role of the media and social learning theory.

Contradictory research evidence

Hoek et al (1998)- examined if anorexia is rare in non western cultures where these is no emphasis on thinness being an ideal

examined records of over 44,000 patients admitted to hospital over a 2 year period in Curacoa. In this culture it is acceptable to be overweight.

They found 6 cases of anorexia that they claimed was within rates reported in western cultures.

Evidence on anorexia in non western cultures even when the cultural ideal are not focussed on thinness. Therefore suggests that anorexia is not learned through observation and imitatyion of influential role modelsand suggests other factors may play a role.

(AO2) - Although the influence of the media may explain why some eating disorders are maintained once they are established, it does not explain why some people develop anorexia and other don't even though we are all exposed to the same images inthe media.

Jones and Buckingham (2005) - Individuals with low self esteem are more likely to compare themselves to idealised images in the media. Personality traits could play a role.

Evaluation -

One strenght of the behaviourist explanation is that it can explain gender differences in anorexia. This is because the media seem to portray ideal images in mainly women and this may


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