Associations between self-report and physiological measures of emotional reactions to food among women with disordered eating

Int J Psychophysiol. 2019 Oct;144:40-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.08.004. Epub 2019 Aug 12.


Individuals with eating disorders have exhibited both positive and negative emotional responses to food when assessed via self-report and psychophysiology. These mixed findings may be explained by a lack of association between self-report and physiological measures, and the degree of association may differ based on core eating disorder symptoms like dietary restriction and binge eating. Women from the community (N = 82) were recruited based on the presence or absence of dietary restriction and binge eating. We examined the startle eyeblink reflex, a physiological measure of defensive motivation, in relation to self-reported valence, arousal, and craving ratings of emotional (positive, neutral, negative) and food (high- and low-calorie) images. Dietary restriction and binge eating were investigated as moderators of self-report/physiology relationships. Replicating extant literature, valence ratings of emotional images were correlated with startle blink reflex magnitude, with more unpleasant ratings related to higher startle eyeblink reflex magnitudes. Increased craving, but not valence, ratings of food images were related to lower startle blink reflex magnitudes. Dietary restriction and binge eating did not moderate the relationship between self-report ratings and startle blink magnitude to food. Our findings suggest that self-reported appetitive motivation towards food relates to a decrease in physiologically measured aversion towards food. Future research should examine the extent to which self-report ratings correlate with physiological indices of positive emotion (e.g., postauricular reflex, zygomaticus major) during the viewing of food images in both patients with eating disorders and healthy controls.

Keywords: Binge eating; Emotional cues; Food cues; Restrictive eating; Self-assessment manikin; Startle blink reflex.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Bulimia / physiopathology
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult