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Neuropsychology. 2012 Mar;26(2):191-201. doi: 10.1037/a0026771. Epub 2011 Dec 26.

Altered implicit category learning in anorexia nervosa.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado, Denver, CO, USA.



Recent research has identified specific cognitive deficits in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN), including impairment in executive functioning and attention. Another such cognitive process, implicit category learning has been less studied in AN. This study examined whether implicit category learning is impaired in AN.


Twenty-one women diagnosed with AN and 19 control women (CW) were administered an implicit category learning task in which they were asked to categorize simple perceptual stimuli (Gabor patches) into one of two categories. Category membership was based on a linear integration (i.e., an implicit task) of two stimulus dimensions (orientation and spatial frequency of the stimulus).


AN individuals were less accurate on implicit category learning relative to age-matched CW. Model-based analyses indicated that, even when AN individuals used the appropriate (i.e., implicit) strategy they were still impaired relative to CW who also used the same strategy. In addition, task performance in AN patients was worse the higher they were in self-reported novelty seeking and the lower they were in sensitivity to punishment.


These results indicate that AN patients have implicit category learning deficits, and given this type of learning is thought to be mediated by striatal dopamine pathways, AN patients may have deficits in these neural systems. The finding of significant correlations with novelty seeking and sensitivity to punishment suggests that feedback sensitivity is related to implicit learning in AN.

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