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Keywords:

  • eating disorders;
  • attention;
  • implicit self-esteem;
  • social rank;
  • shame

ABSTRACT

Objectives

Heightened sensitivity to social comparison and negative self-evaluation have been implicated in the development and maintenance of eating disorders (EDs). This study used behavioral tasks, as well as self-report measures, to examine processing of social rank-related cues and implicit self-concept in participants with EDs.

Method

Fifty healthy participants (HCs), 46 people with an ED, and 22 people recovered from an ED (REC) undertook an attentional bias task using social rank-related cues and an implicit self-evaluation task. In addition, they completed self-report measures of social comparison, submissive behavior, and shame.

Results

People with EDs showed vigilance toward social rank-related stimuli and lower implicit positive self-evaluation than HCs. Self-report data confirmed the behavioral findings and showed that people with EDs had higher levels of unfavorable social comparison, submissive behaviors, and external and internal shame than HCs. People who had recovered from an ED showed an intermediate profile between the two groups.

Discussion

People with EDs have heightened sensitivity to social rank-related cues and impaired self-evaluation at an automatic level of processing. Some of these biases remain in people who have recovered. Interventions which aim to remediate social threat sensitivity and negative bias about self and others might be of benefit in EDs. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2014; 47:543–552)