Neural responses during social and self-knowledge tasks in Bulimia nervosa

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16 Scopus citations


Self-evaluation closely dependent upon body shape and weight is one of the defining criteria for bulimia nervosa (BN). We studied 53 adult women, 17 with BN, 18 with a recent history of anorexia nervosa (AN), and 18 healthy comparison women, using three different fMRI tasks that required thinking about self-knowledge and social interactions: the Social Identity task, the Physical Identity task, and the Social Attribution task. Previously, we identified regions of interest (ROI) in the same tasks using whole-brain voxel-wise comparisons of the healthy comparison women and women with a recent history of AN. Here, we report on the neural activations in those ROIs in subjects with BN. In the Social Attribution task, we examined activity in the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ), an area frequently associated with mentalization. In the Social Identity task, we examined activity in the precuneus (PreC) and dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC). In the Physical Identity task, we examined activity in a ventral region of the dACC. Interestingly, in all tested regions, the average activation in subjects with bulimia was more than the average activation levels seen in the subjects with a history of anorexia but less than that seen in healthy subjects. In three regions, the RTPJ, the PreC, and the dACC, group responses in the subjects with bulimia were significantly different from healthy subjects but not subjects with anorexia. The neural activations of people with BN performing fMRI tasks engaging social processing are more similar to people with AN than healthy people. This suggests biological measures of social processes may be helpful in characterizing individuals with eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 103
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - 2013


  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Eating disorders
  • Identity
  • Mentalization
  • Neuroimaging
  • Social behavior
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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