The Role of Cognitive Processes in Eating Pathology

University dissertation from Uppsala : Universitetsbiblioteket

Abstract: Researchers have recently combined clinical and cognitive areas of research in order to investigate the role of cognitive factors in explaining how emotional disorders are developed and maintained. It is believed that biased cognitive processing of emotionally relevant information can greatly affect emotional responses and behaviour where insights into such cognitive processes can have invaluable clinical implications.The present thesis investigates the role of cognitive biases for information related to food and body appearance in individuals with eating disorders (ED) and those with non-clinically eating disorder-related concerns (NED). Are ED characterised by cognitive biases toward such information related to their specific concerns? Are such cognitive biases specific to clinical ED or present also in NED samples? Are cognitive biases operating at both conscious and unconscious levels of cognitive processing?The tasks used to pursue these questions were: the emotional Stroop task, an Internet version of the emotional Stroop, Jacoby’s white noise paradigm and a recognition task. The influence of priming on the emotional Stroop task was also investigated in order to test whether the use of this task could be extended to more complex investigations than selective attention.Results provide support for that cognitive processing of information related to eating and body appearance is biased in individuals with ED. It is, however, unclear whether such biased processing is specific to clinical ED. Findings further suggest that cognitive biases occur primarily at unconscious levels of cognitive processing. Support was also obtained for that the emotional Stroop task is sensitive to priming where initial body perception may be one factor influencing cognitive responses toward negative self referent words following exposure to thin ideal images. Results further suggest that the emotional Stroop task successfully can be administered via the Internet where manipulating task delivery and response mode may increase the sensitivity of this task. Some of the advantages of administering the emotional Stroop task via Internet over traditional methods are access to more heterogeneous samples, more ecologically valid situations, reduced costs and minimisation of demand characteristics.