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KOALA study 

Cognitive Biases in adolescents with anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder characterised by significantly low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and body image disturbance and affects mainly adolescent girls and young women. We know from studies in adults that women suffering from anorexia nervosa show cognitive biases at multiple stages of information processing, i.e., attention, interpretation, and memory. That means that they perceive and process certain kinds of information differently from women who are not affected by anorexia nervosa. These cognitive biases play a role in the maintenance of the disorder and can have a negative impact on treatment outcome.

However, even though the onset of the disorder is most often in adolescence, it has not been sufficiently investigated if these biases already characterize adolescents with anorexia nervosa. Furthermore, it remains unknown to what extent cognitive biases are specific for certain kinds of information (i.e., eating disorder-related information compared to non-eating disorder-related emotional information). The aim of the KOALA study is to systematically investigate cognitive biases on all three stages of information processing and for different kinds of information in adolescents (12-18 years) with anorexia nervosa.

Since depression and anxiety disorders are also associated with cognitive biases and are frequently found as comorbid conditions in anorexia nervosa, the study compares adolescents with anorexia nervosa not only to a healthy control group but also to a clinical control group. This will help us to address specificity also regarding diagnosis and find out whether certain cognitive biases occur specifically in females with anorexia nervosa.

Cognitive biases are assessed with behavioural and eye-tracking measures.