Reduced automatic approach tendencies towards task-relevant and task-irrelevant food pictures in Anorexia Nervosa

Renate A M Neimeijer*, Anne Roefs, Klaske A Glashouwer, Nienke C Jonker, Peter J de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Anorexia Nervosa (AN) patients are characterized by an excessive restriction of their food-intake. Prior research using an Affective Simon Task (AST) with food as a task-irrelevant feature, provided evidence for the view that AN patients' ability to refrain from food is facilitated by reduced automatic approach tendencies towards food. However, because food was task-irrelevant (i.e., participants had to base their reaction on the perspective of the picture and not on its content), the findings may in fact reflect a relatively strong ability to ignore the content of the food stimuli rather than weakened approach towards food per se. Therefore, this study also included a Stimulus Response Compatibility (SRC) task with food as task-relevant feature that could not be ignored, because the required response depended on the [food vs non-food] content of the pictures.

METHODS: AN spectrum patients (n = 63), and a comparison group of adolescents without eating pathology (n = 57) completed both a SRC task with food as task-relevant feature, and an Affective Simon Task AST with food as task-irrelevant feature.

RESULTS: AN patients showed reduced approach tendencies for high caloric food. Only the SRC uniquely predicted the presence of AN.

LIMITATIONS: Comparison between tasks was hampered because the SRC only included high caloric food stimuli, whereas the AST included high and low caloric food stimuli.

CONCLUSION: Patients with AN are characterized by weakened automatic approach of high caloric food. This might 'help' restrict their food-intake even in a condition of starvation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101496
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Approach bias
  • Approach tendencies
  • Avoidance
  • Food


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