Psychol Res . 2023 Jan 2. doi: 10.1007/s00426-022-01788-3

Altered processing of conflicting body representations in women with restrictive anorexia nervosa

Cognitive and affective impairments in processing body image have been observed in patients with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and may induce the hypercontrolled and regulative behaviors observed in this disorder. Here, we aimed to probe the link between activation of body representations and cognitive control by investigating the ability to resolve body-related representational conflicts in women with restrictive AN and matched healthy controls (HC). Participants performed a modified version of the Flanker task in which underweight and overweight body images were presented as targets and distractors; a classic version of the task, with letters, was also administered as a control. The findings indicated that performance was better among the HC group in the task with bodies compared to the task with letters; however, no such facilitation was observed in AN patients, whose overall performance was poorer than that of the HC group in both tasks. In the task with body stimuli, performance among patients with AN was the worst on trials presenting underweight targets with overweight bodies as flankers. These results may reflect a dysfunctional association between the processing of body-related representations and cognitive control mechanisms that may aid clinicians in the development of optimal individualized treatments.

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