Eating disorders (EDs) are associated with a reduced ability to regulate emotion and impulses during the life span. Working memory and executive functions (EFs) are cognitive regulatory systems supported by networks involving the pre-frontal cortex. Studies in EDs found impaired functioning in these domains, showing an association between EDs and the reduced ability to control emotions and impulses.
To investigate EF in adolescents and young women with eating disorders (ED) using a quasi-experimental design, focusing on cognitive efficiency, emotional regulation (ER) and behavioural outcomes also taking into account pharmacological treatment and duration of illness.
A sample of 151 females belonging to two groups took part in this study. Twenty-six girls and young women (Mage 22;8 years) with ED and 125 typically developed girls and young women (Mage 17;4 years) completed a battery of cognitive tasks (Go–no-go, Stop-signal task, Symmetry span, Reading Span) and the Youth Self-Report and the Difficulties in Emotional Regulation Scale Performance. A series of ANOVA with the Brown–Forsythe test was used to compare the groups.
Participants with ED and controls did not show significant differences in EF tasks, whereas differences between younger and older participants with ED emerged. Moreover, ER difficulties seem to be associated with mainly internalizing problems in EDs. Further analysis on the full ED sample did not reveal any significant differences associated with the disorder persistence. Considering pharmacological treatment effects over cognitive, emotional and behavioural measures emerged.
The present study documented no specific differences in EF between control and participants with EDs, whereas important differences emerged in ER and behavioural outcomes perception in the clinical sample, together with a partial influence of pharmacological treatment.
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This work was supported by a doctoral grant and a research fellowship awarded to Chiara Malagoli by the University of Genoa and Accademia Ligure di Scienze e Lettere, respectively.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee (Ethical Code of Italian Psychology Order and the Ethical Guidelines of the Italian Association of Psychology) and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments. At the time we collected the data, no ethical committee was yet present to which we could refer to in our organization.
Informed written consent was obtained from the participants or their parents if they were minor before data collection.
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Malagoli, C., Cerro, P.F., Vecchiato, C. et al. Cognitive and emotional regulation in adolescents and young women with eating disorders. Eat Weight Disord 26, 375–383 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-020-00859-x
- Eating disorders
- Cognitive processes
- Emotional regulation
- Behavioural outcomes