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Evaluation of enhanced attention to local detail in anorexia nervosa using the embedded figures test; an FMRI study

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Leon Fonville, Nick P Lao-Kaim, Vincent Giampietro, Frederique Van den Eynde, Helen Davies, Naima Lounes, Christopher Andrew, Jeffrey Dalton, Andrew Simmons, Steven C R Williams, Simon Baron-Cohen, Kate Tchanturia

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e63964
JournalPL o S One
Issue number5
Published14 May 2013

King's Authors


The behavioural literature in anorexia nervosa and autism spectrum disorders has indicated an overlap in cognitive profiles. One such domain is the enhancement of local processing over global processing. While functional imaging studies of autism spectrum disorder have revealed differential neural patterns compared to controls in response to tests of local versus global processing, no studies have explored such effects in anorexia nervosa. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging in conjunction with the embedded figures test, to explore the neural correlates of this enhanced attention to detail in the largest anorexia nervosa cohort to date. On the embedded figures tests participants are required to indicate which of two complex figures contains a simple geometrical shape. The findings indicate that whilst healthy controls showed greater accuracy on the task than people with anorexia nervosa, different brain regions were recruited. Healthy controls showed greater activation in the precuneus whilst people with anorexia nervosa showed greater activation in the fusiform gyrus. This suggests that different cognitive strategies were used to perform the task, i.e. healthy controls demonstrated greater emphasis on visuospatial searching and people with anorexia nervosa employed a more object recognition-based approach. This is in accordance with previous findings in autism spectrum disorder using a similar methodology and has implications for therapies addressing the appropriate adjustment of cognitive strategies in anorexia nervosa.

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