The causal role of selective attention for thin-ideal images on negative affect and rumination

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Abstract

Background and Objectives: Attentional bias towards thin-ideal body images has been implicated as a vulnerability factor for eating disorder symptomatology. However, the nature and causal basis of its relationship with other cognitive vulnerability factors, namely, eating disorder-specific rumination and negative mood, remains unclear. Accordingly, the current study investigated the causal influence of attentional bias towards thin-ideal images on emotional and ruminative vulnerability, in response to a body image-related stressor. Methods: An established attentional bias modification (ABM) procedure, the modified dot probe task, was used for the assessment and manipulation of attentional bias. Female undergraduate students (N = 110) aged between 17 and 24 years were randomly assigned to either ‘attend’ towards or ‘avoid’ thin-ideal images. Pre- and post-attentional training, participants completed the dot probe task, as well as state measures of rumination and negative mood. Additionally, following post-ABM assessment of attentional bias, participants were given a body image-related stressor. Results: Results showed that participants trained to attend to thin bodies reported heightened negative mood, in response to the stressor, compared with participants trained to avoid thin bodies. On the other hand, groups did not demonstrate a differential increase in eating disorder-specific rumination in response to the stressor. Limitations: The current findings will require replication with clinical samples. Additionally, state rumination and negative mood were assessed via single items. Conclusions: These results provide the first causal evidence for the role of attentional bias towards thin-ideal images in negative emotional vulnerability. Importantly, these results suggest attentional bias may serve as a risk factor for mood reactivity and a potential target for strategies designed to enhance emotional resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-133
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Volume61
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

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