Testing the specificity of interpretation biases in women with eating disorder symptoms: An online experimental assessment

Julia Korn*, Fanny A. Dietel, Andrea S. Hartmann

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: Cognitive biases, such as memory, attention, and interpretation bias, are thought to play a central role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders (EDs). The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the interpretation bias is ED-specific or can be generalized to comorbid disorder-related threats in women with high levels of ED symptoms. Method: In an online study, we measured interpretation bias using the modified Sentence Word Association Paradigm (SWAP), comparing women with (n = 39) and without (sub)threshold eating disorders (n = 56). We assessed endorsement and rejection rates as well as reaction times in response to a positive/neutral or a negative ED-specific, social anxiety-specific (SAD), or generalized anxiety-specific (GAD) interpretive word following an ambiguous sentence. Results: In ambiguous situations, women with high ED symptoms selected more negative (p <.001) and fewer positive/neutral ED-related interpretations (p <.001). Negative interpretations were endorsed significantly faster (p <.001), while positive interpretations were rejected faster in this group (p <.001). These women also manifested negative SAD-specific interpretation bias patterns in reaction time measures. Nevertheless, ED severity was best predicted by the endorsement of negative ED-specific stimuli, whereas ED and SAD reaction time measures seemed to have a negligible effect. Discussion: The results indicate that the interpretation bias might be ED-specific. The SWAP can be a useful tool for the further investigation of the etiological relevance of the interpretation bias as well as for the development of modification training interventions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)372-382
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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