Recent research has focused on examining the cognitive abilities of people with eating issues and in particular, of women with anorexia nervosa (AN). “These studies are important for a better understanding of AN given the possibility that cognitive deficits may (a) contribute to the development and persistence of AN, (b) result from neurological changes associated with the disease, or (c) influence the choice of treatment approaches,” said Megan E. Shott of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado. More recent studies have discovered that although individuals with AN may have deficits in cognitive functioning, many of them also have very high IQs. “These results suggest that difficulties in cognitive functioning in AN may be more specific than an impairment in general intellectual functioning, and raises the possibility that AN might impact only certain neural systems,” said Shott, who recently led a study designed to identify which types of learning were most impacted in people with AN.
Shott and her colleagues assessed 21 women with AN and 19 healthy women (CW) as they completed two categorical tasks. She found that the women with AN performed far worse on the tasks than the control participants. “Second, as indicated by our model-based analyses, AN participants who used the task-appropriate strategy still performed significantly worse than CW participants, indicating that AN women who learned the appropriate task approach were still impaired in learning, and poor strategy selection, per se, could not account for the learning deficit,” said Shott. “Third, certain temperament and personality characteristics were associated with impaired category learning, such as novelty-seeking and reinforcement biases (sensitivity to punishment).” Shott believes that these findings provide evidence that individuals with AN have significant cognitive deficiencies with respect to categorizing and punishment. She added, “It will be important for future studies to examine learning deficits in the context of other, potential cognitive impairment in AN individuals.”
Shott, M. E., Filoteo, J. V., Jappe, L. M., Pryor, T., Maddox, W. T., Rollin, M. D. H., Hagman, J. O., & Frank, G. K. W. (2011, December 26). Altered Implicit Category Learning in Anorexia Nervosa. Neuropsychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026771
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