Research Summary: Cognitive Flexibility and Clinical Severity in Eating Disorders



The aim of this study was to explore cognitive flexibility in a large dataset of people with Eating Disorders and Healthy Controls (HC) and to see how patient characteristics (body mass index [BMI] and length of illness) are related to this thinking style.


A dataset was constructed from our previous studies using a conceptual shift test – the Brixton Spatial Anticipation Test. 601 participants were included, 215 patients with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) (96 inpatients; 119 outpatients), 69 patients with Bulimia Nervosa (BN), 29 Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), 72 in long-term recovery from AN (Rec AN) and a comparison group of 216 HC.


The AN and EDNOS groups had significantly more errors than the other groups on the Brixton Test. In comparison to the HC group, the effect size decrement was large for AN patients receiving inpatient treatment and moderate for AN outpatients.


These findings confirm that patients with AN have poor cognitive flexibility. Severity of illness measured by length of illness does not fully explain the lack of flexibility and supports the trait nature of inflexibility in people with AN.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 15-June-2011

Author(s): Tchanturia K., Harrison A., Davies H., Roberts M., Oldershaw A., Nakazato M., Stahl D., Morris R., Schmidt U., Treasure J.


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