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Psychol Med. 2008 Dec;38(12):1741-8. doi: 10.1017/S0033291708002961. Epub 2008 Feb 29.

The inability to ignore: distractibility in women with restricting anorexia nervosa.

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Section of Eating Disorders, Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.



Attentional difficulties reported in individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) may be due to preferential processing of disease-salient stimuli at a pre-attentive or at a conscious level or to a general problem in attention. Attentional difficulties may be associated with duration of illness.


Female participants with AN (restricting subtype; n=24) and healthy comparison women (n=24) were randomly allocated to subliminal or supraliminal exposure to visual stimuli (food, neutral and aversive images) while performing the 1-back and 2-back working-memory tasks.


Participants with AN made fewer errors than the healthy comparison group in the subliminal condition but significantly more errors in the supraliminal condition [condition x group interaction, F(1, 44)=6.82, p<0.01]: this was irrespective of stimulus type (food, neutral and aversive) and task (1-back or 2-back). The total number of errors made correlated positively with the duration of the AN for both the 1-back task (rs=0.46, p<0.05) and for the 2-back task (rs=0.53, p<0.01).


Decreased ability to concentrate in the presence of explicit distracters is a feature of AN and is associated with longer duration of illness. This phenomenon could be addressed in psychological interventions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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