Seeing Things Differently: An Experimental Investigation of Social Cognition and Interpersonal Behavior in Anorexia Nervosa


Student co-author: Lea Simms

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International Journal of Eating Disorders


Objective: Interpersonal difficulties among individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) may stem in part due to misperceiving social cues. The current study investigated social functioning by comparing interpersonal self‐efficacy, perceptions of dominance/submission (i.e., agency) and coldness/warmth (i.e., communion), and hypothetical behavioral reactions among individuals with and without AN.
Method: Seventy‐seven women (AN/Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder OSFED‐AN n = 41, nonclinical comparison group n = 36) completed questionnaires assessing mood symptoms and interpersonal self‐efficacy, followed by an experimental video‐rating task in which they received critical feedback from job supervisors varying in degrees of agency and communion.
Results: AN respondents perceived more coldness overall, even after adjusting for differences in depression and anxiety symptoms, and tended to respond with coldness even to videos that they perceived as being warm. However, perceptual accuracies for agency were similar across groups. Interpersonal self‐efficacy moderated the relationship between diagnostic status and behavioral responses: among those who felt competent being cold‐submissive, AN respondents selected cold‐submissive responses more frequently than did the nonclinical comparison group.
Discussion: Among those with AN symptoms, there may be a tendency toward social perceptual inaccuracies regarding communion and non‐complementary cold behavioral responses. Results suggest that improving social perceptions may be a fruitful intervention target for enhancing interpersonal functioning among individuals with AN.


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