Fear of Abandonment and Binge Eating: A Subliminal Psychodynamic Activation Investigation

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Dependency and fear of abandonment by significant others have been theoretically linked to eating disorders, particularly bulimia. This research investigates the hypothesis that unconscious fear of abandonment is one variable underlying binge eating episodes in bulimia. An analogue population of 40 “high eating disorder” undergraduate women and 40 undergraduate women with normal eating patterns viewed either an abandonment or a control stimulus presented at either subliminal (4 msec) or supraliminal (200 msec) exposure durations. Following exposure to an abandonment stimulus, the high eating disorder group ate significantly more crackers in a bogus cracker rating task (p < .001) than did subjects in any other condition. Contrary to predictions, a subliminal stimulus did not lead to a significant change in self-reported mood. Results provide preliminary support for the psychoanalytic hypothesis that binge eating is a defense against unconscious fear of abandonment.

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