Impairment of Social Function in Young Females With Recent-Onset Anorexia Nervosa and Recovered Individuals

J Adolesc Health. 2017 Jan;60(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.08.011. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


Purpose: A subgroup of individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) displays social difficulties; however, it is not clear if individuals with comorbid autism spectrum disorders account for these difficulties.

Methods: We compared social function using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule in 43 young females with first-episode AN who did not have comorbid autism spectrum disorder, 28 individuals recovered from adolescent-onset AN, and 41 healthy comparison individuals (age range 14-22 years). We measured adaptive behavior with the Vineland-II parent questionnaire, and aspects of social cognition with psychological tests, such as the Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes test, Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity short version, The Awareness of Social Inference Test, Animated Triangles, and the CANTAB Affective Go/No-go task.

Results: Participants with first-episode AN and those recovered from AN displayed difficulties in social function, which were not associated with body mass index or other state factors of the disorder in those with first-episode AN. Mood problems and anxiety were not associated with these difficulties. Parents rated participants with first-episode AN lower than recovered and control participants on the Socialization Domain of Vineland-II. Finally, only participants recovered from AN demonstrated deficits in specific domains of social cognition: perceiving nonverbal bodily gesture and vocal prosody.

Conclusions: Young females with first-episode AN and those recovered from AN displayed impairments in social function, which may represent more stable traits of the disorder. Only participants recovered from AN demonstrated deficits in social cognition.

Keywords: Adolescents; Anorexia nervosa; Autistic traits; Recovered; Social cognition; Social function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult