Eating Disorders Linked to Difficulty Understanding Emotions

Women with "abnormal eating behaviors"—like bingeing or extreme dieting—are more likely to misinterpret other people's facial expressions, and thus their emotions, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. For the first time, researchers were able to identify a pattern that associated disordered eating and "recognition errors."

The study, conducted in the UK, involved 80 women in their 20s. Half of them had high scores on an "eating disorder inventory" (which assessed body dissatisfaction, bulimia, etc.) while the other 40 had low EDI scores. The women were shown 160 images of actors making facial expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust, with four different degrees of intensity. Women with high EDI scores "recognized significantly fewer emotional expressions," and had a particularly difficult time with confusing anger, sadness and fear.

While the study did not conclude that women with disordered eating are linked to Alexithymia (a personality trait in which there is a deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotion), the research suggests that "impaired facial recognition may be caused by abnormalities in the part of the brain associated with emotions."

Image via Shutterstock/iQoncept

Trouble Seeing Emotions Tied to Eating [WSJ]