Self-defining memories in female patients with anorexia nervosa

Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2020 Sep;28(5):513-524. doi: 10.1002/erv.2739. Epub 2020 May 3.


Objective: Overgeneral autobiographical memory (AM) was reported in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) using AM cueing tasks that did not directly indexes memories that are personally important to the individual, that is, self-defining memories (SDMs). The aim of this study is to investigate characteristics of SDMs in females with AN.

Method: A total of 46 outpatients with chronic AN and 52 healthy controls (HC) were asked to recall three SDMs.

Results: Compared to HC, patients with AN presented less specific SDMs, but have preserved ability to give meaning to their memories. Patients' SDMs were associated with more negative emotions, more tension (i.e. explicit expression of discomfort, disagreement or unease) and more contamination (i.e. transformation in the memory narrative from a positive to a negative affective state). Content of SDMs differed between patients with AN and HC. Finally, no difference was found in SDMs characteristics between the two subtypes of anorexia nervosa (restricting type and binge eating / purging type).

Discussion: Patients with AN recalled overgeneral SDMs with negative content and emotions. In this context, a clinical intervention based on SDMs together with cognitive and emotional remedial therapies could help patients with AN to improve emotion processing and redefine their identity in a more positive way.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; autobiographical memory; eating disorders; personal identity; self-defining memories.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / therapy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cues
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult