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Reactivity to thought–shape fusion in adolescents: the effects of obesity status


  • The first author moved to a new position during the course of this research.


What is already known about this subject

  • Thought–shape fusion (TSF) is a cognitive distortion associated with eating pathology.
  • TSF is a phenomenon associated with perceptions of weight gain, body dissatisfaction and moral wrongdoing after merely thinking about consumption of high-caloric foods.
  • Women who are overweight are less susceptible to inductions of TSF than are women who are normal-weight.

What this study adds

  • Obese adolescents were less susceptible to a TSF induction than were lean adolescents (i.e., they reported lower state TSF in comparison with lean adolescents, and did not demonstrate an increase in state TSF relative to a neutral induction).
  • Eating pathology, but not obesity status or gender, predicted trait TSF.


Previous research has demonstrated that imagining consumption of high-caloric foods can lead to feelings of guilt, and perception of weight gain and moral wrongdoing. This psychological response is known as thought–shape fusion (TSF).


This study was conducted to assess the susceptibility of obese and lean adolescents to TSF.


To investigate TSF susceptibility in adolescents, and predictors of this distortion, a total of 82 adolescents (44 obese and 38 lean) were randomly assigned to receive either a TSF or a neutral induction. Subsequent TSF reactivity was assessed (i.e., levels of state TSF after the induction), as was trait TSF, eating pathology and depression.

Results and conclusions

The results suggest that obese adolescents are less susceptible to TSF than are lean adolescents, as lean (but not obese) adolescents reported significantly higher state TSF relative to participants who received the neutral induction. Similarly, lean adolescents who were exposed to a TSF induction reported higher state TSF than did obese adolescents. Furthermore, obesity did not emerge as a predictor of trait TSF. Factors that may account for decreased TSF susceptibility in obese adolescents relative to lean adolescents will be discussed.