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Sfärlea, Anca; Lukas, Linda; Schulte-Korne, Gerd and Platt, Belinda (2021): The KOALA-study: study protocol for a comprehensive study of cognitive biases in adolescent anorexia nervosa patients compared to healthy and clinical controls. In: Journal of Eating Disorders, Vol. 9, No. 1, 139

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Abstract

Background Anorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by dysfunctional cognitions including cognitive biases at various levels of information processing. However, less is known about the specificity of these biases, i.e., if they occur for eating-disorder-related information alone or also for non-eating-disorder-related emotional information in AN patients (content-specificity) and if they are unique to individuals with AN or are also shown by individuals with other mental disorders (disorder-specificity). Methods The present study systematically assesses cognitive biases in 12-18-year-old female adolescents with AN on three levels of information processing (attention, interpretation, and memory) and with regard to two types of information content (eating-disorder-related, i.e., stimuli related to body weight and shape, and non-eating-disorder-related). To address not only content- but also disorder-specificity, adolescents with AN will be compared not only to a healthy control group but also to a clinical control group (adolescents with major depression or particular anxiety disorders). Cognitive biases are assessed within a single experimental paradigm based on the Scrambled Sentences Task. During the task eye movements are recorded in order to assess attention biases while interpretation biases are derived from the behavioural outcome. An incidental free recall test afterwards assesses memory biases. We expect adolescents with AN to show more pronounced negative cognitive biases on all three levels of information processing and for both types of content compared to healthy adolescents. In addition, we expect the specificity of biases to translate into differential results for the two types of content: AN patients are expected to show stronger biases for disorder-related stimuli but similar or less pronounced biases for non-disorder-related stimuli compared to the clinical control group. Discussion This is the first study to comprehensively assess cognitive biases in adolescents with AN. It will have essential implications not only for cognitive-behavioural models of AN but also for subsequent studies aiming to modify cognitive biases in this population, thereby addressing important maintaining factors already at an early stage of the disorder.

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