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Attentional Processing of Food and Body Cues in Eating Disorders

Eating disorders (EDs) are characterised by extreme eating behaviours, often leading to serious health consequences, as well as dysfunctional attitudes towards and distorted perceptions of body- and food-related materials. These distortions are accompanied by attentional biases for food- and body-related stimuli, which have, up to now, been mostly assessed using behavioural methods. Recent studies em-ploying more direct measures have yielded promising but inconclusive results, which have been obtained only from select ED groups and usually only on one of the two cue categories (body or food).

The ATTEND project will investigate attentional biases for food- and body-related stimuli in eating disor-ders using eye-tracking, EEG-ERP, and startle-reflex methods as direct assessments of attentional processes. Differences between stimulus categories, ED diagnostic groups, and patients vs. healthy con-trols will be examined as well as the predictive value of attentional biases for ED symptom onset and remission. The project is structured in four separate studies, the first three representing the three meth-ods employed and the fourth a 1-year follow-up assessment. The three methods differ in their approach (cognitive-behavioural vs. psychophysiological) and in the precise information they yield on attentional bias, therefore complementing each other.

The goal of the ATTEND project is a comprehensive account of attentional biases for disorder-related materials in the various EDs. This approach will generate novel results as well as help to further eluci-date previous inconclusive results. It will be an important contribution to the exploration of causal and maintaining factors for EDs. Moreover, the results will have implications for methods currently employed in the treatment of EDs, especially for the use of cue exposure procedures.

This project is funded by the University of Luxembourg (2013-2015).

Involved members of staff: