Affect, reward, and punishment in anorexia nervosa: a narrative overview

Eat Weight Disord. 2018 Dec;23(6):731-737. doi: 10.1007/s40519-018-0588-9. Epub 2018 Oct 4.


Introduction: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious psychiatric disorder that is difficult to treat and often follows a protracted course. A number of theoretical models have been proposed for the etiology and maintenance of AN. Two domains that have received substantial attention in the literature on AN are affect and reward/punishment processes. However, despite an overlap in the nature and implications of these processes, studies of AN addressing these constructs have typically investigated them independently.

Purpose: The purpose of this narrative review is to integrate the literature on the role of affect, reward, and punishment in AN.

Method: We provide a focused narrative overview of the literature relating to the affect, reward, and punishment in AN via a synthesis of recent reviews and meta-analyses.

Results: We first describe several prominent affect and reward/punishment-based conceptualizations of AN, followed by a brief overview of the existing empirical literature in these domains.

Conclusion: We provide a critical discussion of the disparate nature of these literatures in AN, including associated limitations. We then conclude with an extensive discussion of directions for future research that integrate the study of affect and reward/punishment processes in AN.

Level of evidence: Level V, narrative review.

Keywords: Affect; Anorexia nervosa; Emotion; Punishment; Reward.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Punishment*
  • Reward*