Emotion contagion moderates the relationship between emotionally-negative families and abnormal eating behavior

Int J Eat Disord. 2011 Dec;44(8):716-20. doi: 10.1002/eat.20873. Epub 2010 Nov 19.


Objective: To reconcile empirical inconsistencies in the relationship between emotionally-negative families and daughters' abnormal eating, we hypothesized a critical moderating variable: daughters' vulnerability to emotion contagion.

Method: A nonclinical sample of undergraduate females (N = 92) was recruited via an advertisement and completed self-report measures validated for assessing: families' expressive negativity, daughters' susceptibility to emotion contagion, dietary restraint, and disinhibition, eating attitudes, and several control variables (interpersonal orientation, alexithymia, and the big five personality traits: extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, and agreeableness).

Results: All variables and interactions were entered as predictors in a multistep multiple regression equation. Only an emotion contagion by family expressivity interaction term significantly predicted unhealthy eating attitudes (β = .29, p = .02) and dietary restraint (β = .27, p = .03). Negatively expressive families significantly induced unhealthy eating and restraint but only among young women susceptible to emotion contagion (ps < .05).

Discussion: Young women susceptible to emotion contagion may be at increased risk for eating disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude to Health
  • Emotions*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Psychological Tests
  • Young Adult