Pseudoparadoxical impulsivity in restrictive anorexia nervosa: A consequence of the logic of scarcity


  • Daniel M. T. Fessler

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, UCLA, Los Angeles, California
    • Department of Anthropology, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553
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To explain an apparently paradoxical pattern wherein sufferers of restrictive anorexia nervosa exhibit both rigorous self-restraint and episodic impulsivity.


The experimental, historical, and clinical literatures were examined for evidence of psychological and behavioral changes accompanying severe dietary constriction; such changes were noted and compared with those reported to occur in anorexics.


Increased impulsivity in association with dietary constriction is described in diverse literatures. A number of lines of evidence suggest that the serotonergic system mediates this change.


Many forms of impulsivity can be understood as having once constituted fitness-enhancing responses to resource scarcity. It is suggested that an evolved psychological mechanism calibrates the individual's sensitivity to risk in light of future prospects. Self-injurious behaviors are explicable as misfirings of such a mechanism. Similarly, excessive exercising by anorexics may reflect the misdirection of reward systems that normally encourage adaptive increases in ranging behavior under conditions of scarcity. © 2002 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 31: 376–388, 2002.