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Conscious Cogn. 2012 Jun;21(2):751-63. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 11.

Subliminal food images compromise superior working memory performance in women with restricting anorexia nervosa.

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Eating Disorders Unit Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, DeCrespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.


Prefrontal cortex (PFC) is dysregulated in women with restricting anorexia nervosa (RAN). It is not known whether appetitive non-conscious stimuli bias cognitive responses in those with RAN. Thirteen women with RAN and 20 healthy controls (HC) completed a dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) working memory task and an anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) conflict task, while masked subliminal food, aversive and neutral images were presented. During the DLPFC task, accuracy was higher in the RAN compared to the HC group, but superior performance was compromised when subliminal food stimuli were presented: errors positively correlated with self-reported trait anxiety in the RAN group. These effects were not observed in the ACC task. Appetitive activation is intact and anxiogenic in women with RAN, and non-consciously interacts with working memory processes associated with the DLPFC. This interaction mechanism may underlie cognitive inhibition of appetitive processes that are anxiety inducing, in people with AN.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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