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Aberrant reward mechanisms with regard to slim body shapes are discussed in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN). The aim of the present study was to examine of cue reactivity toward body shapes in AN via the late positive potential (LPP), an event-related electroencephalography (EEG) component. By including adolescents and adults, aspects of development and chronification could be studied (2 × 2 design).
Thirty-two female AN patients (19 adolescents and 13 adults) and 37 control participants (16 adolescents and 21 adults) were included. Standardized photographic stimuli showing women's bodies in underwear from five body mass index (BMI) categories (extremely underweight to extremely overweight) were presented. During picture evaluation, EEG activity was recorded (10–20 system). The LPP was measured in two time windows characterized by different topographies (450–700 ms: posterior; 1000–1300 ms: central).
Regarding the posterior component, LPP amplitudes were clearly reduced in adult but not in adolescent patients; for both time windows the LPP showed differential patterns over BMI categories for patients and controls. Regarding the central component, a highly significant linear decrease from extremely underweight to extremely overweight body shapes was revealed in patients and no significant modulation in control participants.
Adolescent and adult patients show increased sustained attention toward extremely underweight bodies. In chronically ill patients, this bias appears to be accompanied by generally reduced automatic attention. The LPP findings provide a differentiated picture of aberrant cue reactivity which could be interpreted as motivated attention toward body shapes in AN.
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