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An investigation into the relationship between eating disorder psychopathology and autistic symptomatology in a non-clinical sample


Dr Mark Brosnan, Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK (e-mail:


Objective. Female adults with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN) have been found to score higher than healthy controls on a questionnaire that measures characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This research investigated the relationship between eating disorder (ED) and ASD symptomatology in a non-clinical sample, with an additional focus on prenatal testosterone (pT) levels.

Design. A cross-sectional research design was used. The selected age group of both males and females allowed for a focus on early onset of ED symptomatology in both sexes.

Methods. Self-reported questionnaire data from the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) were collected from 132 schoolchildren (61 boys, 71 girls) aged 11 to 14, with no recorded psychiatric diagnoses. Digit ratio (2D:4D) measures to index levels of pT exposure were also obtained.

Results. A significant relationship between levels of ED symptomatology and ASD symptomatology was identified. Particularly strong relationships were identified between the EAT-26 and the attention to detail and communication subscales of the AQ. Few relationships were found for digit ratios.

Conclusion. The results extend previous research from a sample with a diagnosis of AN to a non-clinical population. Those registering higher levels of ED symptomatology also reported higher levels of attention to detail and communication difficulties associated with ASD.