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Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):263-71. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.023. Epub 2011 May 8.

Cognitive deficits in obese persons with and without binge eating disorder. Investigation using a mental flexibility task.

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Cognitive Psychopathology and Neuropsychology Unit, Psychology Department, University of Geneva, Boulevard du Pont d'Arve, Geneva, Switzerland.



Studies suggest that cognitive deficits and attentional biases play a role in the development and maintenance of obesity and eating disorders. In this study, we simultaneously examine attentional biases, as well as inhibitory control and mental flexibility, which are keys to controlling unwanted behaviors and thoughts in obese patients with and without binge eating disorder.


16 obese patients with binge eating disorder and 16 patients without binge eating disorder were compared with 16 normal-weight controls on a "food/body-mental flexibility task", which allows the investigation of inhibitory control, mental flexibility and attention for stimuli related to the body and food.


All obese patients made significantly more errors (i.e., pressing a key when a distracter displayed) and more omissions (i.e., not pressing a key when a target displayed) than controls in both food and body sections of the task. Obese participants with binge eating disorder made significantly more errors and omissions than those without binge eating disorder. No difference between groups was found concerning mental flexibility and cognitive biases for food- and body-related targets.


These results suggest that obese patients have a general inhibition problem and difficulty focusing attention, which do not depend on the types of stimuli processed. The results also suggest that these cognitive deficits are more severe in obese patients with binge eating disorder, which indicates that there is a continuum of increasing inhibition and cognitive problems with increasingly disordered eating. These cognitive deficits may contribute to problematic eating behaviors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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