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Keywords:

  • anorexia nervosa;
  • autism spectrum disorders;
  • set-shifting;
  • detail focus;
  • theory of mind

Abstract

Objectives

Similarities have been noted between cognitive profiles of anorexia nervosa (AN) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, there are no direct comparison studies. This study aimed to compare the cognitive profile of AN against published ASD data on tasks measuring empathy, executive function and central coherence.

Methods

Currently ill AN outpatients (n = 40) were statistically compared against published ASD scores on Reading the Mind in the Eyes, Voice and Films tasks (assessing empathy), Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) (assessing executive function) and Embedded Figures Task (EFT) (assessing detail focus aspect of central coherence).

Results

Cognitive profiles of the groups were statistically similar, except for differences in the relative patterns of empathy scores.

Conclusions

The cognitive profile in current AN resembles that of ASD with important clinical implications. Replication studies with planned comparisons, examination of the state-or trait-nature of AN profile and clarification of factors underpinning similarities are required in order to broaden understanding of both disorders. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.