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Heightened Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa

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Heighted Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa was a study done to test patients with anorexia nervosa and food stimulation. This study was done in 2017 to test the hypothesis that patients with anorexia nervosa are insensitive to the attentional capture of food stimuli. This means the researchers were testing to see how much participants with anorexia nervosa would avoid food. Since the participants have a fear of gaining weight the researchers wanted to test how much they are afraid. The article discusses what anorexia nervosa is and why this study is important. Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder in which people with this disorder tend to fear gaining weight despite being underweight already. It then discusses how other studies have shown results that people who are hungry show a heightened attentional bias toward food cues.

The participants that were in this study were females who had been admitted to the Center for Eating Disorders who were restricted eaters who were anorexia nervosa patients. There were 66 participants that were AN patients. These patients ranged from ages 12 to age 23. For the control group they used 55 females that were within the same age range as the AN patients, who were symptom-free.

The researchers used several tests to begin with to see how much participants did not or did eat. They used three different scales to test hunger in the patients. The researchers then checked to see how much information was correct from the participant’s answers. The results showed that participants with AN were underweight and showed less cravings, liking, and frequency of eating. They also found that AN participants had reported that it was a longer time since they last had eaten.

There were several tests that the researchers had used to get the information they needed from their participants. The test the researchers used was the RSVP which is a task that is used for food-related disorders. The participants were presented with pictures that lasted 118 seconds and no intervention but the streams had a distractor and a neutral target stimulus. At the end of the task to help ensure differences i could not be a variable the researchers they had the final stream be present in the working memory. The participants had to do 3 similar blocked of 24 trials with a 30-second break. The break helped participants so they would not be fatigued and could concentrate better. After each trial the participants had to type what they saw on the picture with the blue frame aka the targets.

The participants also participated by doing questionnaires. There were three questionnaires that they did; Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire, Visual Analog Scales, and Hunger Scale. The Eating Disorder questionnaire consisted on four subscales which included restraint, eating concern, weight concern, and shape concern. The Visual Analog Scale tested how much the participants craved something, liked something, and how much they ate the food items that were presented to them. This was tested by asking questions that related to each section. The Hunger Scale consisted of asking questions such as, time since last eating, subjective hunger, estimate of the amount of favourite food able to eat and estimate of time until next expected meal.

The method of using scales and questionnaires helped the researchers to develop a better understanding of the participants and their disorder. They found out many things about the participants using these scales. The participants who have AN showed clearly that when a target is preceded by a food distractor then it is hindered. As the researchers hypothesised, the AN participants showed that there was a bottom-up attentional capture which interfered with the task they were working on. This means that people with AN have their attention taken away when a picture of food is shown to them. The longer a person is deprived of food, the stronger the attentional bias for food will be. AN participants seem to have a high self-regulation for resisting food when it is presented because of their goal to stay underweight. The study suggests that the higher attentional capture might be because there is a threatening aspect to eating food. The threat is because of food making people, especially people with AN gain weight, which is what they fear. The effect of the distractor in the RSVP seemed to work the most when it was close to the target.

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The strengths of this article were that they did proper tests that were reliable and valid. They tested the correct items and helped to determine the hypothesis as well as additional information that they did not previously have. There are also plenty of limitations or weaknesses this study has which are that the sample size of the participants was small. This could have an effect on the results because it would not get enough information from a select few. For this study being done for the first time, there were good results but more research on the topic should be done and another study should be done. Even though they had many tests of eating disorders and eating in general, they also had a limitation on the scales and tests they did. This information could interfere with some of the results they found. One test they could have sought out was something to also predict if the participants have anxiety of depression. This could also change the results because it might differ in AN patients with anxiety or depression compared to AN patients who do not have anxiety or depression. Overall this was a good starting study on the topic of anorexia nervosa patients and their attentional capture of visual food.

Next steps that could be taken are to include some anxiety and depression testing in the patients in both the control group as well as the AN patient group. The researchers could include 3 groups in the study to determine if anxiety or depression have some hindrance on people with AN as well. This could show that people with AN and depression or anxiety could be worse when it comes to the want to eat but knowing they cannot eat. There could be more possible steps that are taken to improve this research and maybe find something that can treat it sooner in life.

Next steps that could be taken to improve this research is that they could go further into research on how to treat these young women earlier in life and trying to figure out how it comes about. Research could be done on how AN effects participants in daily life, what it does to hinder life in general and if anxiety and depression have any effect on making AN worse. There are many things that should be looked at when thinking about this topic and trying to help people with anorexia nervosa.

There is a need for more research involving people, including males, with anorexia nervosa to be able to treat it earlier in life. This research needs to done so people can catch it sooner than early teens and it can be treated properly. Males should be included in this study because it is not just females that suffer from this condition. Though it is a smaller percentage of males with anorexia nervosa, it is still relevant. If it is possible to be able to treat it better and faster with this research then it should be studied and with a larger sample.

Other research that would really help with learning more about anorexia nervosa is how much it hinders people with AN’s daily lives. Researchers could look into how much people are impacted by this disorder they have. Other ideas they could look into that would or could be included in this research would be anxiety and depression. This kind of research for this particular topic, anorexia nervosa would help people understand more of this disorder. It might also answer the question to why people with AN have more attentional capture towards food.

A better understanding of how people with anorexia nervosa function in their daily lives with this disorder will help researchers in treating it. It will give more of an understanding to the disorder and why people with AN see themselves this way. This article explores and explains how people with anorexia nervosa have an effect on attentional capture of visual food. It shows how much people with AN are affected by the disorder they have. It goes through a study that has a control group and a group of people with AN who are asked to do a bunch of scales and tests.

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Heightened Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“Heightened Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Heightened Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Sept. 2023].
Heightened Attentional Capture by Visual Food Stimuli in Anorexia Nervosa [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Sept 25]. Available from:
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