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Title: The relationship between trait eating behaviours and food-related attentional biases
Author: Wilson, Ceri
Awarding Body: Loughborough University
Current Institution: Loughborough University
Date of Award: 2013
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Attentional bias (AB) refers to the tendency to selectively attend to (orientation towards) and/or hold attention on (slowed disengagment from) disorder-relevant stimuli. Females with eating-related concerns are thought to preferentially process threatening stimuli, which in turn is thought to maintain and exacerbate eating concerns. The aim of the present thesis was to explore AB for threatening stimuli in females characterised by restrained, external or emotional eating, and those with high levels of (non-clinical) eating psychopathology. This was carried out with the intention of identifying cognitive processes that contribute to eating behaviours in females, in order to assess the relevance of an attention training (AT) programme for reducing such biases. A pilot study assessed orientation/slowed disengagement, for mood and food words amongst females with high/low levels of restraint. Forty females completed a modified Stroop task with three conditions. Food and mood conditions included sequences of five words ( target food/mood followed by four neutral). The neutral condition consisted of all neutral words. Performance did not significantly differ according to high/low restraint groups. All participants took longest to colour-name word position 2 (demonstrating slowed disengagement lasting one consecutive trial). However, this pattern was also found in the neutral condition. Methodological limitations were then addressed in study one. High/low restrained eaters (n=48) completed a modified Stroop where targets (food, interpersonal threat, animal) were presented prior to four neutral words. Participants were slow to disengage from targets (slowest for word position 2) in all conditions. Patterns of responding indicated that restrained eaters might take longer to disengage (i.e. the carry-over effect from the food word seemed to last longer than one trial). However, more neutral words in the sequence were needed to assess this. As slowed disengagement from animals also arose, a categorical effect may have occurred. Study two explored attention processing of food using modified Stroop and dot probe tasks. In the Stroop task targets (food, interpersonal threat, household objects) were presented prior to six matched neutral words. This task revealed no evidence of AB. No significant pattern of differences between restrained (n=29)/unrestrained eaters (n=31) emerged; however, binge eating scores were significantly negatively correlated with response times. A dot probe task with food/neutral picture pairs also revealed no evidence of AB. Both restrained/unrestrained eaters had negative mean interference scores indicating avoidance of food. None of the following eating behaviours significantly correlated with AB: restraint, disinhibition, external eating, emotional eating and non-clinical eating psychopathology. Study three employed a further modified dot probe task based on image ratings. There was no evidence of AB, and no significant relation between task performance and restrained, emotional or external eating. 2000ms bias scores (assessing disengagement) were significantly negatively correlated with eating psychopathology and age, suggesting that those with high levels of non-clinical eating psychopathology attentionally avoid food stimuli and that younger females are slower to disengage attention from food (although found within a limited age range). Study four employed further modified Stroop and dot probe tasks, and assessed whether AB mediates the negative mood-eating relationship. Participants were allocated to negative or neutral mood conditions. No evidence of AB was found with the dot probe, but greater levels of emotional eating were associated with slower responding. In the Stroop task, all participants displayed an orientation bias towards food. Emotional eating and drive for thinness (DFT) scores were significantly positively correlated with food word colour-naming times but only amongst participants in a negative mood. However, those with high levels of external eating showed greater AB towards food when in a neutral mood. Highly emotional eaters in a negative mood showed a greater desire to eat than those in a neutral mood but did not increase in food intake. Furthermore, those with a high DFT (in a negative mood) showed no evidence of increased desire to eat or food intake. AB was not significantly related to subjective appetite or food intake. Therefore, AB does not seem to mediate the negative-mood eating relationship. The present thesis provides important suggestions for modifications of Stroop and dot probe tasks targeting orientation and disengagement. A modified Stroop has been more sensitive at detecting food AB than the dot probe. Implications of biased attention processing are discussed in relation to the development of harmful eating behaviours, and the present findings have important implications for developing programmes to prevent eating disorders amongst at-risk females (e.g. through AT or training at-risk females how to effectively cope with negative mood).
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Attentional bias ; Attention training ; Dietary restraint ; Emotional eating ; External eating ; Eating psychopathology ; Stroop ; Dot probe