Longitudinal examination of decision-making performance in anorexia nervosa: before and after weight restoration

J Psychiatr Res. 2014 Sep;56:150-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2014.05.015. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


Background: This study aimed to extend previous work on decision-making deficits in anorexia nervosa (AN) by using a longitudinal design to examine decision-making before and after weight restoration.

Methods: Participants were 22 women with AN and 20 healthy comparison participants who completed the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). Decision-making was assessed both before and after weight restoration in a subset of 14 AN patients. Self-report and interview assessments were used to measure psychological correlates of decision-making performance including depression, anxiety, and eating disorder symptoms, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were conducted to explore associations between brain volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and decision-making in individuals with AN.

Results: Currently ill AN patients performed worse on the IGT compared to the control group. Although decision-making performance did not improve significantly with weight restoration in the full AN sample, AN patients who were poor performers at baseline did improve task performance with weight-restoration. When actively ill, lower body mass index (BMI) and decreased left medial OFC volume were significantly associated with worse IGT performance, and these associations were no longer significant after weight restoration.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that decision-making deficits in AN in the acute phase of illness are associated with low weight and decreased left medial OFC volume, but increases in brain volume and BMI may not have been sufficient to improve decision-making in all patients. Findings contribute to a model for understanding how some patients may sustain self-starvation, and future work should examine whether decision-making deficits predict relapse.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Cognitive impairment; Decision-making; Iowa Gambling Task; Neuropsychology; Orbitofrontal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / pathology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Decision Making* / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Gambling
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Organ Size
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Self Report
  • Weight Gain / physiology
  • Young Adult