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Keywords:

  • reward;
  • punishment;
  • anorexia nervosa;
  • behavioral inhibition;
  • behavioral activation

Abstract

Objective:

The objective of this study is to test whether females with anorexia nervosa (AN) have increased sensitivity to punishing or rewarding stimuli, behaviors that could drive high self-control and anxious, avoidant behaviors.

Method:

Sixty-four females completed the study: 33 control females (CFs, mean age 19.7 years) and 31 females with AN (mean age 19.6 years). Participants completed diagnostic exams, questionnaires for eating disorder severity and personality, and the Sensitivity to Punishment/Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire (SPSRQ).

Results:

Females with AN scored higher than CFs on SPSRQ sensitivity to punishment (p < 0.00001) and sensitivity to reward (p = 0.005). Females with AN without anxiety or depression continued to have increased SPSRQ scores compared to CFs.

Discussion:

This is the first study comparing the SPSRQ in females with AN and CFs. Results suggest that reward and punishment sensitivity are increased in females with AN and could be potential trait markers. It is possible that harm-avoidant, anxious behaviors in females with AN are related to this heightened sensitivity. © 2010 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2011; 44:317–324)