Neurocognitive deficits have been identified in eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, current data do not allow for firm conclusions regarding the nature or extent of these deficits. The current study aimed to evaluate neurocognitive functioning in a population-based sample of adolescents with and without eating disorders.
Participants (N=669) were drawn from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. Cognitive testing was conducted using the computerized CogState assessment battery. Eating disorder symptoms were assessed using questions adapted from the Child Eating Disorder Examination and Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire. Adolescents who met full or partial criteria for a DSM-IV eating disorder (n=58) were compared to adolescents with no significant eating pathology (n=592).
The eating disorder sample showed impaired performance on measures of executive functioning, including global processing and set shifting, but performed better than control participants on measures of visual attention and vigilance.
This is the first study to evaluate neurocognitive functioning in a population-based sample of adolescents with eating disorders. Support is provided for weak central coherence and set-shifting difficulties early in the course of eating disorders. Research is needed to determine if these deficits precede and predict eating disorder onset.