Cognitive Perceptions in Anorexia Shift with Body Position

Woman sits alone 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.”


  1. 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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  • jocelyn

    May 12th, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    surprised to see body position can change spatial processing.but it does show the impairment in spatial processing is highly flawed because not only has it changed from normal but also depends on body position.i hope this is at least something that could help someone with AN see how their perception has changed.could be a sort of self diagnosis!

  • Jude

    May 13th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    I found this very interesting, because I have always thought that anorexia and other eating disorders could be cured if only the patient would submit to therapy and change their behaviors and relationships with food. This shows that for many who struggle with this issue, there are many other factors involved, many different things that can lead to their symptoms either getting better or worse, and none of those things fit into the box of what I always thought that the resolution would come from. I am always impressed when scientists come up with something completely new, different from what we may have otherwise been familiar with. That shows that the boundaries in many areas are being stretched in a good way, and that the struggles of so many are not being forgotten.

  • anthony

    May 13th, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    I appreciate the fact that we are looking at long existing mental health problems from different perspectives to possibly find the “missing piece” that could one day help develop the ultimate therapy.

  • gwen

    May 14th, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    perception changes yes.but these people, most of whom are women, tend to judge themselves critically and yet continue to view others with an enhanced view,praising others while further degrading does this shift in their own and others’ view differ even with the same condition?is it not something in the mind than an impaired ability (which would give same results no matter who it is)?

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