Social Cognition in Anorexia Nervosa: Specific Difficulties in Decoding Emotional But Not Nonemotional Mental States

Timo Brockmeyer, Judith Pellegrino, Hannah Münch, Wolfgang Herzog, Isabell Dziobek, Hans-Christoph Friederich

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Building on recent models of anorexia nervosa (AN) that emphasize the importance of impaired social cognition in the development and maintenance of the disorder, the present study aimed at examining whether women with AN have more difficulties with inferring other people's emotional and nonemotional mental states than healthy women.

Social cognition was assessed in 25 adult women with AN and 25 age-matched healthy women. To overcome limitations of previous research on social cognition in AN, the processing of social information was examined in a more complex and ecologically valid manner. The Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) reflects complex real-life social interaction and allows for disentangling emotional and non-emotional mental state inference as well as different types of errors in mentalizing.

Women with AN showed poorer emotional mental state inference, whereas non-emotional mental state inference was largely intact. Groups did not differ in undermentalizing (overly simplistic theory of mind) and overmentalizing (overly complex or over-interpretative mental state reasoning). Performance in the MASC was independent of levels of eating disorder psychopathology and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The findings suggest that AN is associated with specific difficulties in emotional mental state inference despite largely intact nonemotional mental state inference. Upon replication in larger samples, these findings advocate a stronger emphasis on socio-emotional processing in AN treatment. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2016)
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Early online date17 Jun 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2016


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