What can food-image tasks teach us about anorexia nervosa? A systematic review

Lloyd, E. Caitlin; Steinglass, Joanna E.

A salient feature of anorexia nervosa (AN) is the persistent and severe restriction of food, such that dietary intake is inadequate to maintain a healthy body weight. Experimental tasks and paradigms have used illness-relevant stimuli, namely food images, to study the eating-specific neurocognitive mechanisms that promote food avoidance. This systematic review, completed in accordance with PRISMA guidelines, identified and critically evaluated paradigms involving images of food that have been used to study AN. There were 50 eligible studies, published before March 10th 2018, identified from Medline and PsychINFO searches, and reference screening. Studies using food image-based paradigms were categorised into three methodologic approaches: neuropsychology, neurophysiology, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Paradigms were reviewed with a focus on how well they address phenomena central to AN. Across tasks, differences between individuals with AN and healthy peers have been identified, with the most consistent findings in the area of reward processing. Measuring task performance alongside actual eating behaviour, and using experimental manipulations to probe causality, may advance understanding of the mechanisms of illness in AN.


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Also Published In

Journal of Eating Disorders

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April 2, 2019


Anorexia nervosa, Eating behaviour, Food stimuli, Eating disorders, Cognitive neuroscience, fMRI