In the research on anorexia nervosa (AN) and other eating and food issues, various risk factors have been studied. Researchers have looked at what increases the likelihood of AN, how people with AN see themselves, and how they process their own emotions and thoughts.
In recent years, neurocognitive exploration has revealed various impairments that exist in different types of psychological issues. But the study of such impairments in AN is lacking. Therefore, Dewi Guardia of the Laboratory of Neuroscience Function and Pathology at the University of Lille North of France recently led a study that looked at how spatial processing differed in a sample of 25 women with AN compared to 25 control subjects with no history of AN.
AN is marked by distorted body image and body associations and these distortions have been linked to functions associated with the parietal cortex (PC) region of the brain. This area directly impacts spatial processing for visual and tactile cues. Guardia decided to subject his samples to visual and tactile spatial processing tests while they were sitting upright and again while they were reclined, to see if body position influenced the spatial processing of those with AN. The results revealed that the women with AN performed slightly worse than controls on the tests when they were sitting up; however, their results were far worse when lying down. This finding suggests that women with AN may have a deficit of spatial awareness in certain positions. Additionally, the gravitational pull for average-sized women is stronger than for lighter women, which could indicate another spatial processing deficit.
In sum, Guardia believes that these results show that women with body image issues may actually view themselves differently than others because of a decrease in spatial processing ability. This impairment has a direct impact on introspective awareness, body sensations like hunger, and body perception. Taken together, this deficit puts women with AN at risk for perpetuating their negative eating behaviors. Further, these cognitive differences extend to social situations in which women with AN may be especially vulnerable. Guardia added, “A better understanding of the social difficulties encountered by patients would enable the development of more appropriate cognitive remediation therapies.”
- Guardia, D., Carey, A., Cottencin, O., Thomas, P., Luyat, M. (2013). Disruption of spatial task performance in anorexia nervosa. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54928. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054928
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