Exploring Correlations of Food-Specific Disgust with Eating Disorder Psychopathology and Food Interaction: A Preliminary Study Using Virtual Reality

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Abstract

The emotion of disgust is thought to play a critical role in maintaining restrictive eating among individuals with anorexia nervosa. This exploratory cross-sectional study examined correlations between food-specific trait and state disgust, eating disorder psychopathology, illness severity (body mass index: BMI), and interactions with virtual foods in people with anorexia nervosa. Food-specific trait disgust and eating disorder symptoms were measured before exposure to virtual foods in one of three virtual reality (VR) kitchens to which participants were randomly allocated. Food interactions (eye gaze and reaching towards virtual foods) were measured during the VR exposure. Food-specific state disgust ratings were collected after the VR exposure. In the entire sample, eating disorder symptoms correlated positively with food-specific trait disgust (rs (68) = 0.45, p < 0.001). We also found a significant association between food-specific state disgust and eating disorder symptoms in each virtual kitchen scenario: virtual kitchen only (rs (22) = 0.40, p = 0.05), virtual kitchen plus pet (rs (22) = 0.80, p < 0.001), and virtual kitchen plus avatar (rs (20) = 0.78, p < 0.001). No significant correlation was observed for the link between food-specific disgust measures and food-related touch. Correlations between food-specific trait disgust and food-related eye gaze differed across scenarios. The current experimental paradigm needs to be improved to draw firm conclusions. Both food-specific trait and state disgust are associated with eating disorder psychopathology, and therefore, effective strategies are warranted to attenuate food-specific disgust.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4443
Pages (from-to)4443
Number of pages9
JournalNutrients
Volume15
Issue number20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2023

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