To Eat or Not To Eat: Assessing Neurocognitive Processes as Predictors of Maladaptive Eating Behaviors

Rose Downey, Cassandra Iljin, Gloria Barber


There is general agreement that individuals with anorexia nervosa show higher levels of self-control, constraint, and inhibition, whereas those with bulimia nervosa exhibit a lack of impulse control. Yet the fundamental questions about the nature and scope of these neurocognitive processes in people with pathological eating patterns are not fully known. The current study examined the neurocognitive predictors (attentional impulsiveness, motor impulsiveness, non-planning impulsiveness, self-control and inhibition) of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa traits in a sample of undergraduate students. For the interim analyses, data are currently available on 88 undergraduate students. Participants’ neurocognitive processes were assessed using the Barratt-11 Impulsivity Scale, Self-Control Scale, and Stop Signal Inhibition Task. Traits of anorexia nervosa were measured using the Eating Attitudes Test and traits of bulimia nervosa were assessed using the Eating Questionnaire-Revised. A series of multiple regression analyses revealed that among the neurocognitive predictors, attentional impulsiveness (B = .65, t(87) = 2.12, p = .037) and non-planning impulsiveness (B = . -0.51, t(87) = -2.24, p = .028) were significant determinants of anorexia nervosa traits. Similarly, non-planning impulsiveness (B = -.49, t(87) = -2.24, p = .028) was the strongest determinant of bulimia nervosa traits, whereas attentional impulsiveness (B = .57, t(87) = 1.925, p = .058) and self-control (B = - .12, t(87) = -1.952, p = .055) were at trend levels. Both self-control and inhibition were not significant predictors of traits of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These preliminary findings suggest that the neurocognitive function of impulsivity may serve as an important predictor of maladaptive eating behaviors.


maladaptive eating behaviors; impulsiveness; self-control

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