Emotional intelligence in anorexia nervosa: is anxiety a missing piece of the puzzle?

Psychiatry Res. 2012 Nov 30;200(1):12-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2012.05.017. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


Problematic emotional processing has been implicated in the genesis and maintenance of anorexia nervosa (AN). This study built on existing research and explored performance-based emotional intelligence (EI) in people with AN. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) was administered to 32 women diagnosed with AN and 32 female healthy controls (HC). Compared to HC women, the AN group demonstrated significantly lower total EI scores and poorer ability to understand how emotions can progress and change over time. Despite scores within the broadly average range compared to published EI norms, there was a general pattern of poorer performance in the AN sample. Self-reported anxiety symptoms were the strongest predictor of EI, over and above a diagnosis of AN. This study adds to the literature documenting the socioemotional phenotype of AN, suggesting this group of individuals may find it relatively difficult to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions, and to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought. Anxiety was highlighted as a putative variable partially explaining why people with AN demonstrated lower EI compared to controls. Implications for further research are discussed, including the need to explore the specificity of EI difficulties in AN using larger samples and additional control groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Perception*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires