Self-focused attention in anorexia nervosa

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Abstract

Objective:

The clinical presentation of anorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by preoccupation with body experience, intrusive concerns regarding shape, and pathological fears of weight gain. These symptoms are suggestive of unrelenting self-focused attention. No research to date has characterized self-focused attention (SFA) in AN nor examined neurocognitive features that may facilitate an excessive, rigid, or sustained focus on one's appearance.

Method:

This study examined SFA, body image disturbance, and executive functioning in women with current anorexia nervosa (AN-C; n = 24), a history of AN who were weight-restored at the time of the study (WR; n = 19), and healthy controls (n = 24).

Results:

Private and public SFA were highest among WR and lowest among AN-C. Shape concerns were negatively correlated with SFA, especially among AN-C, after controlling for depression and social anxiety symptoms.

Discussion:

Lower levels of SFA among AN-C were unexpected and suggest the acute state of AN may lessen pathological self-focus, negatively reinforcing symptoms. In addition, body image concerns may distract from general SFA. Deficits in executive attention may explain these findings, as each one unit increase in perseverative errors among AN-C participants was associated with an almost one-half unit decrease in public SFA. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2015; 48:9–14)

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