Habit learning and anorexia nervosa: a cognitive neuroscience hypothesis

Int J Eat Disord. 2006 May;39(4):267-75. doi: 10.1002/eat.20244.


Objective: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by abnormal behaviors involving eating and weight that are impressively resistant to change. The persistence of these behaviors likely plays an important role in the high relapse rate after initial treatment. Persistent, stereotyped behaviors are also characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This article presents a neurocognitive model of AN, based on comparisons with OCD.

Method: This article reviews clinical, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging findings in both OCD and AN relevant to a neurobiological understanding of a potential mechanism of the perpetuation of AN.

Results: The identification of specific neurocognitive disturbances in individuals with OCD has led to a compelling hypothesis of the neural mechanisms mediating this disorder. Evidence suggests that similar disturbances, involving neural circuits between the cortex and the basal ganglia, may be present in individuals with AN.

Conclusion: Research on such neurocognitive disturbances has the potential both to inform understanding of neural mechanisms underlying AN and to lead to advances in treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa / pathology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Cognitive Science
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Pathways
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / pathology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology