Social comparison and submissive behaviour in eating disorder patients


Department of Psychology, London Metropolitan University, Calcutta House, Old Castle Street, London E1 7NT, UK


Animal analogues of anorexia nervosa suggest that submissive behaviour and social defeat may be implicated in the onset of wasting diseases. Data from human sufferers of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosaare also consistent with the presence of submissive behaviours and perceived low social rank (e.g. low self-esteem, helplessness, and feelings of shame). A total of 101 patients with eating disorders completedthe Submissive Behaviour Scale and the Social Comparison Rating Scale, and their responses were compared with 101 age- and sex-matched student controls. Patients with eating disorders reported significantlyhigher levels of submissive behaviour and a more unfavourable social comparison than did student controls. Furthermore, levels of submissive behaviour and unfavourable social comparison were significantlyrelated to severity of eating disorder symptoms, even after taking account of depressive symptoms and other psychopathology. These preliminary results suggest that ranking theory may have some applicationto eating disorders. Further research is required to determine whether rank plays a specific role in eating disorders (beyond the increased rates of depression which also occur in eating disorders) and, if so, what is its preciserole.