Friday, February 04, 2011

Theory of Mind and eating disorders

Theory of Mind - how we interpret our own and other people's thoughts and emotions - has become one of the most influential ideas in psychology. It is thought to be deficient in people with autism and some psychologists think that people with eating disorders could also have problems in telling what other people are thinking. Researchers from Oxford University looked into this a bit more in a study of 145 women recruited from among university students and local workplaces. The women were asked aobut four different situations: having an argument with a family member, being on one's own at the end of the day, coming back from a date which didn't go well and moving to a new area. As well as writing about their own reactions to these situations the participants were also asked how an attachment figure (usually their mother) and an acquaintance would have reacted. Those women who had a higher number of eating-disorder symptoms had a 'concretised' understanding of their own emotions, i.e. they were more likely to mention food in their responses even though there was no mention of food in the original vignettes, although they did have a sophisticated understanding of a same-sex acquaintance's emotions. Eating-disorder symptoms were also associated with fewer positive thoughts about oneself but also fewer negative emotions about one's own behaviour. People with eating-disorder symptoms were also more likely to mention food when discussing how a same-sex acquaintance would react.

Warren, Louis and Cooper, Myra J. - Understanding Your Own and Other’s Minds: The Relationship to Eating Disorder Related Symptoms European Eating Disorders Review DOI: 10.1002/erv.1079

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