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Keywords:

  • anorexia;
  • bulimia;
  • theory of mind;
  • social cognition;
  • clinical profile

ABSTRACT

Objective

This study aimed to assess cognitive and affective theory of mind (ToM) in patients with eating disorders and to explore its relationship with the clinical and psychopathological profile.

Method

Theory of mind was assessed in 65 women, consisting of 22 with anorexia nervosa (AN), 19 with bulimia nervosa (BN), and 24 healthy controls (HC), using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and the Faux Pas Test. These tasks evaluate affective and cognitive ToM, respectively. We also examined the correlations between performance on ToM tasks and the clinical psychopathological profile, which was extensively evaluated through self-report instruments and clinical interviews.

Results

Patients with AN had poorer performance than BN patients and HCs had in the affective ToM task, particularly in recognizing negative emotions and emotions in male eyes. Moreover, this deficit showed no correlation with the psychopathological profile. Performance in the BN group was equivalent to that of HCs in both tasks.

Conclusions

In this study, patients with AN showed an impairment in affective ToM, independent of their clinical status. Consistent with other studies, our findings demonstrate a specific difficulty in social cognition in patients with AN. This may be a trait marker in this population and should be considered in treatment. Furthermore, patients with AN and BN have different difficulty profiles in this domain of social cognition. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.