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Emotional functioning in eating disorders: attentional bias, emotion recognition and emotion regulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2010

A. Harrison*
Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
S. Sullivan
Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
K. Tchanturia
Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
J. Treasure
Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
*Address for correspondence: Mrs A. Harrison, Eating Disorders Research Unit, Department of Academic Psychiatry, 5th Floor, Bermondsey Wing, Guy's Hospital, LondonSE1 9RT, UK. (Email:



Interpersonal processes, anxiety and emotion regulation difficulties form a key part of conceptual models of eating disorders (EDs), such as anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN), but the experimental findings to support this are limited.


The Reading the Mind in the Eyes task, the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS) and a computerized pictorial (angry and neutral faces) Stroop task were administered to 190 women [50 with AN, 50 with BN and 90 healthy controls (HCs)].


Those with an ED showed attentional biases to faces in general (medium effect), but specifically to angry faces over neutral faces (large effect) compared to HCs. The ED group also reported significantly higher emotion regulation difficulties (large effect) than HCs. There was a small difference between the ED and HC groups for the emotion recognition task (small-medium effect), particularly in the restricting AN (RAN) group. Depression and attentional bias to faces significantly predicted emotion regulation difficulties in a regression model.


The data provide support for conceptualizations of EDs that emphasize the role of emotional functioning in the development and maintenance of EDs. Further research will concentrate on exploring whether these findings are state or trait features of EDs.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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