Southgate - Cognitive


Analyze Etiologies of Anorexia Nervosa

(Southgate and colleagues 2008)

Analyze: Break down in order to bring out the essential elements or structure.

Aim: The aim of the experiment was to investigate whether participants with eating disorders would show information processing biases toward impulsivity or efficiency. They hypothesized that participants with anorexia would show greatest efficiency, along with bulimia would show a greater impulsivity.

Methods: Two cognitive factors that increase the risk for eating disorders. These are the attentional biases toward food and body and cognitive styles that distort reality. This research is valuable for understanding the symptoms and personality traits of persons with eating disorders.

This experiment was a quasi-experiment in where the data was collected through Matching

Familiar Figures Tests (MFFT) by dimensions where accuracy at a cognitive task was at one extreme and speed (impulsivity) was at the other extreme. Through this system the participants are shown a target picture (one single picture of a familiar object) and then one at a time eight other similar pictures are shown. There is only one picture that is identical to the target picture and the participant must identify the correct match. Once the first target picture is correctly matched, the participants’ moves on to the following target picture until all the pictures are matched, if there was an incorrect answer the participants were told to try again. The participants were told that both speed and accuracy was being measured but that neither was valued more than the other. There were 60 female participants from the United States ages 16-57, 20 with anorexia, 14 with bulimia and 26 normal controls. The participants who were excluded from the experiment were those who had a history of substance abuse problems, psychiatric illness, head injury, or those taking psychiatric drugs. The anorexic and bulimic participants all met the DSM-

IV guidelines of having an eating disorder.


The anorexic participants were significantly more efficient than controls, supporting the hypothesis how people with anorexia pay more attention to detail. Southgate and colleagues support how their findings support what is known about the clinical symptoms of anorexia. Self- starvation is correlated with cognitive deficits. Persons with anorexia nervosa suffer from “hyper arousal” where “individuals are often so focused on maintaining their maladaptive behaviors they are unable to see the “bigger picture” and the severe consequences these behaviors have on their life”(Pg 225). Those with bulimia show more impulsivity meaning that they have a faster time but less accuracy.


1. Standardized instructions helped minimize experimenter bias.

2. Being a quasi experiment, it compared the information processing biases of girls of anorexia nervosa and bulimia with normal controls.


1. This was the first study to use a continuum to gather data, so it needs replication for method triangulation.

2. Impossible to engage in blind procedures because the researchers knew who made up the anorexia group.