Measuring memory and attention bias in patients with anorexia nervosa

Suzanne Carroll Woodard, Fordham University


The purpose of this study was to examine the interrelationships between dieting behavior, weight and shape concerns, and performance on cognitive tasks. More specifically, this study was aimed at testing some of the predictions of the cognitive theory of anorexia which state that individuals with anorexia show biased information-processing when exposed to stimuli of a particular type. Two thought-sampling approaches, the dot probe task and the directed forgetting task, were used in this study to measure memory and attentional bias in participants with anorexia. Twenty-one patients with anorexia nervosa and 23 control participants were presented with four word types on the two computer tasks: food, weight/shape, adolescent conflicts, and neutral. To examine attentional bias, it was hypothesized that participants with anorexia, but not controls, would shift attention toward the emotionally laden material, resulting in decreased detection latencies for probes that followed food, weight/shape, and adolescent conflict words in comparison with probes that followed neutral words. For memory bias, it was hypothesized that food, weight/shape, and adolescent conflict words would be remembered more often by the participants with anorexia in relation to the controls, regardless of whether they were primed to remember or forget these word types. If this is the case, then participants with anorexia display explicit memory biases for potentially salient stimuli in relation to controls. Results indicated that participants being treated for anorexia had higher levels of dietary restraint and weight and shape concerns than controls. Further analyses indicated that although participants with anorexia were faster to detect probes following eating disorder-related words in relation to their own times when presented with neutral words, the results did not approach significance. In addition, the proportion of eating disorder-related words remembered on the directed forgetting task was not significantly higher for participants with anorexia, relative to controls, regardless of cue. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Suzanne Carroll Woodard, "Measuring memory and attention bias in patients with anorexia nervosa" (January 1, 2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI3140896.