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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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37. Attention towards Food and Body Stimuli among Individuals with Disordered Eating versus Food Allergies

Individuals with disordered eating display heightened attentional biases towards food- and body-related stimuli. However, it is unknown whether these attentional biases reflect maladaptive thinking/eating pathology or are simply a function of frequent food-related thoughts. This study investigated the differences between maladaptive and adaptive ways of thinking about food, through the inclusion of a group with peanut allergies, which has not been studied in this context to date. We recruited healthy controls (N=122), participants with disordered eating (N=139), and participants with peanut allergies (N=60) and examined performance on a Stroop task that included food- and body-related words. We also examined how attentional biases interacted with emotion regulation strategies. Stroop performance was assessed before and after a negative mood induction where some participants were assigned to a rumination condition and others were assigned to a distraction condition. There was a significant main effect of group on Stroop task performance at Time 1 (i.e., before the negative mood induction). Individuals with disordered eating and individuals with peanut allergies had significantly slower reaction times (p = .05 and p = .003, respectively) for food and body-related words than did healthy controls. This was not the case for other types of words (e.g., positive or negative). There was no significant effect of condition (rumination or distraction) on performance on the Stroop task at any time point. However, participants with disordered eating showed more mood deterioration when asked to ruminate versus distract. Although preliminary, findings shed some light on differences between adaptive and maladaptive ways of thinking about food and how this affects biases towards food- and body-related stimuli.

Melissa Dreier
Harvard University

Shirley Wang
Harvard University

Matthew Nock
Harvard University

Jill Hooley
Harvard University


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