Fixation Patterns, Not Clinical Diagnosis, Predict Body Size Over-Estimation in Eating Disordered Women and Healthy Controls

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Objective:A core feature of anorexia nervosa (AN) is an over-estimation of body size. Women with AN have a different pattern of eye-movements when judging bodies, but it is unclear whether this is specific to their diagnosis or whether it is found in anyone over-estimating body size.Method:To address this question, we compared the eye movement patterns from three participant groups while they carried out a body size estimation task: (i) 20 women with recovering/recovered anorexia (rAN) who had concerns about body shape and weight and who over-estimated body size, (ii) 20 healthy controls who had normative levels of concern about body shape and who estimated body size accurately (iii) 20 healthy controls who had normative levels of concern about body shape but who did over-estimate body size.Results:Comparisons between the three groups showed that: (i) accurate body size estimators tended to look more in the waist region, and this was independent of clinical diagnosis; (ii) there is a pattern of looking at images of bodies, particularly viewing the upper parts of the torso and face, which is specific to participants with rAN but which is independent of accuracy in body size estimation.Discussion:Since the over-estimating controls did not share the same body image concerns that women with rAN report, their over-estimation cannot be explained by attitudinal concerns about body shape and weight. These results suggest that a distributed fixation pattern is associated with over-estimation of body size and should be addressed in treatment programs. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2016; 49:507–518).

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