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Social perception is a key aspect of social cognition which has so far not been investigated in eating disorders (ED). This study aimed to investigate social perception in individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN).
Outpatients with AN (restricting subtype [AN-R]: n = 51; binge-purge subtype [AN-BP]: n = 26) or BN (n = 57) and 50 healthy control (HC) participants completed the Interpersonal Perception Task (IPT-15). This is an ecologically valid task, which consists of 15 video clips, depicting complex social situations relating to intimacy, status, kinship, competition and deception. The participants have to assess relationships between protagonists’ based on non-verbal cues.
Overall, there was no difference between groups on the IPT total score and subscale scores. Group differences on the Intimacy subscale approached significance so post hoc comparisons were carried out. HCs performed significantly better than AN-R participants in determining the degree of intimacy between others.
Social perception is largely preserved in ED patients. Individuals with AN-R show impairments in identifying intimacy in social situations, this may be due to the lack of relationship experience. Further research into different aspects of social cognition is required to establish the link between interpersonal difficulties and ED psychopathology.
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