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The structure of the causal attribution belief network of patients with obesity


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr D. Hevey, School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland (e-mail:


Objectives. Causal attributions form a significant part of how people understand and represent illness. The present study explored the structure of causal attributions in obesity using network analysis and examined the specific properties of this network in terms of extent, patterning, and direction.

Design. Cross-sectional study.

Methods. Seventy-two obese individuals (22 male, 50 female) completed a questionnaire, which asked them to rate the strength of all causal relationships between nine possible causes of obesity. Inductive eliminative analysis (IEA) was used to produce the networks and multidimensional scaling (MDS) determined the spatial structure of the network.

Results. A high percentage (70.4%) of participants endorsed the resultant network. Analysis revealed a two-dimensional solution, with the MDS statistics of low level of stress (.05) and a dispersion accounted for (DAF) of .95 indicating a good fit between the data and the solution. The results indicated traumatic events, family problems, and addictive personality were perceived as distal causes of over-eating and comfort eating, while more passive behaviours, less physical activity, over-eating, and comfort eating were perceived as proximal causes of obesity. Family history did not contribute to the network.

Conclusions. Obese individuals appeared to hold a highly consensual and complex representation of their illness. From a multidisciplinary treatment perspective, this understanding would seem valuable in relation to achieving behaviour change.