An Investigation of Putative Neurocognitive and Social-Emotional Intermediate Phenotypes in Eating Disorders
: Evidence from Males and Family Trios

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Background: Obsessive compulsive personality (OCR) characteristics and altered social-emotional processing are central to aetiological and maintenance models of eating disorders (EDs). These characteristics may be associated with genetic risk for EDs. Thesis aim: To examine the gender specificity and familial nature of OCR features and social-emotional processing in EDs. Self-report and behavioural data were collected to test hypotheses. Results: Males with an ED (N = 29) have significant levels of OCR characteristics. They exhibited a rigid and fragmented cognitive style relative to healthy males (N = 42) on behavioural tasks. Men with EDs were not significantly different from healthy males on a measure of visuo-spatial local processing or on social-emotional tasks. As expected, ED offspring of family trios (mean age 21 years) had a detailed, fragmented cognitive style with was some evidence for cognitive inflexibility (N = 73). Mothers of ED offspring (N = 77) had elevated levels of OCR features on self-report measures compared to mothers of healthy offspring (N = 51). On behavioural measures, mothers of ED offspring had relative strengths in local processing and relative difficulties in global processing and spontaneous flexibility. Fathers of ED offspring (N = 60) had higher levels of self-reported obsessive-compulsivity than fathers of HC offspring (N = 56). ED offspring had significant levels of trait and social anxiety. Altered social-emotional processing was associated with a more protracted illness. Mothers and fathers of ED offspring had higher trait and social anxiety than HC parents. There was little evidence for altered attention for social stimuli or difficulties in emotion recognition in parents of ED offspring. OCR and anxious traits were more pronounced in parents who screened positive for a lifetime ED.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJanet Treasure (Supervisor) & Iain Campbell (Supervisor)

Cite this