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Is inefficient cognitive processing in Anorexia Nervosa a familial trait? A neuropsychological pilot study of mothers of offspring with diagnosis of anorexia nervosa

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OBJECTIVE: Inefficient set shifting and poor global processing are thought to be possible traits in Anorexia Nervosa (AN). This study aimed to investigate the neuropsychological processing style of unaffected mothers of offspring with AN (unaffected AN mothers).

METHOD: The performance of N=21 unaffected AN mothers were compared to N=20 mothers of healthy control offspring on neuropsychological measures of set shifting (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, WCST) and central coherence (Fragmented Pictures Task, FPT, and Rey Osterrieth Complex Figures Task, ROCFT). Associations between neuropsychological performance and clinical measures were examined in the unaffected AN mothers group.

RESULTS: There were significant differences in perseverative errors on the WCST (P=<.01), with the unaffected mothers displaying a more inflexible thinking style compared to the control group. There were also significant differences on the FPT (P=<.01) and the ROCFT (P=<.01), whereby unaffected AN mothers showed lower levels of global processing.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study support the idea of the familial nature of cognitive styles in AN. The implications of these findings are discussed.

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