The processing of food stimuli in abnormal eating: a systematic review of electrophysiology

Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2015 Jul;23(4):251-61. doi: 10.1002/erv.2366. Epub 2015 May 15.


To update the knowledge about attentional processing of food stimuli, a systematic review of electrophysiological studies was conducted using PubMed, PsychInfo and Web of Knowledge (2000-2014). Twenty-one studies were included into a qualitative synthesis. Presentation of food and control pictures was used to analyze event-related potentials related to sensory processing and motivated attention. Results show consistent attentional bias towards food pictures compared with neutral pictures for patient and control groups. Group comparisons between individuals with abnormal-eating and healthy-eating participants were more inconsistent. Results suggest that temporal differences in the millisecond range are essential for the understanding of visual food processing. In obesity, early attention engagement to food is followed by relatice disengagement. Loss of control eating, as well as external and emotional eating, are associated with a sustained maintenance of attention towards high-caloric food. There is a lack of studies in anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; binge eating disorder; bulimia nervosa; obesity; subclinical.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Appetite / physiology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / psychology
  • Bulimia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / psychology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*