Emotional theory of mind and emotional awareness in recovered anorexia nervosa patients

Psychosom Med. 2010 Jan;72(1):73-9. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181c6c7ca. Epub 2009 Dec 7.


Objectives: To examine whether an impaired ability to infer emotion in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and difficulty with emotional theory of mind (eToM) are limited to the ill state or if this condition is a stable deficit that persists with recovery in adults with anorexia nervosa (AN). This is in keeping with observations of similarities between the disorders.

Methods: Twenty-four participants fully recovered from AN were compared against a sample of currently ill AN patients (n = 40) and healthy controls (HCs) (n = 47) on forced-choice tasks assessing emotion recognition, basic or advanced eToM in other people, using sensory stimuli and on a written task measuring eToM ability for the self as well as for others.

Results: Recovered participants performed well on eToM tasks and were significantly better than currently ill patients at inferring emotions in the self and in others. However, participants recovered from AN had some slight impairment in emotion recognition relative to HCs, particularly when recognizing positive emotions.

Conclusions: These findings indicate almost complete normalization of emotion recognition ability as well as the restoration of eToM in recovered patients, despite the observation of difficulties in both domains in currently ill patients. Findings suggest that similarities between AN and ASD in poor eToM are restricted to the currently ill AN state and such difficulties in AN may be a factor of starvation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Awareness*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Theory of Mind*