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Risk Factors in the Overall Development of Anorexia Nervosa

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In modern day society, the effectiveness of social pressures is at an all-time high. For the growing adolescent, the stress of fitting the social norms and living up to internal/external expectations can take a major toll. Above all other norms, the need to fit a certain body physique has been one of the most influential pressures to arise recently. Popular media and culture has created a “top tier” look that the public has come to believe as the aiming point for themselves. As children continue to grow and develop, any physical difference between themselves and their idols can instantly become burden. This burden can push adolescents to take extreme measures to “look the part”. This can lead to diagnosis of the clinical condition of Anorexia Nervosa. Also known as AN, Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that involves the relentless pursuit of thinness through starvation. “Diagnosed more commonly in women than men, AN is one of the deadliest known psychological disorders with a staggering mortality rate of approximately 5.6%”. Although AN can affect anyone, it is most commonly diagnosed in “non-Latino white females often from well-educated families”. Despite the increasing commonality of Anorexia Nervosa, much of what causes this psychological eating disorder is not fully understood. Numerous studies have been conducted to try to understand factors relating to the development of this condition. We will now look at 3 different studies, and their discovery of factors (biological, psychological, and socio-cultural) that may influence the development of Anorexia Nervosa.

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The first study examined a potential biological factor and its relationship to AN. Conducted by Dr. Isky Gordon and his team, they wanted to try to investigate a possible underlying biological substrate that may be linked to Anorexia Nervosa. They selected 15 children and adolescents (aged 8-16 years old) who had already been previously diagnosed with Childhood-Onset Anorexia Nervosa, to undergo regional cerebral blood flow radioisotope scans. These scans are completely harmless to the subjects and allow researchers to examine the flow of blood throughout different areas of the brain and compare it to standard results found in healthy controls. After complete conduction of the experiment, it was found that “13 of the 15 subjects had unilateral temporal lobe hypoperfusion (8 on the left side and 5 on the right)”. This means that the subjects were receiving a lack of blood flow to one of the two temporal lobes of the brain. This discovery became the first report of reduced regional cerebral blood flow in Childhood-Onset Anorexia Nervosa subjects. It suggests that there may be an underlying primary functional abnormality that may be linked to the development of AN.

The next study I researched looked to find a potential connection between the psychological maturation of the individual and the origination of Anorexia Nervosa. The study used basic performance-based measurements to try and understand whether there is evidence for elevated perfectionism behavior in Anorexia Nervosa subjects. One-hundred and fifty-three total subjects took part in the study (81 with diagnosis of AN and 72 healthy controls HC). The subjects were asked to complete two basic performance-based tasks that allowed researchers to assess perfectionism. The tasks included a text replication task, and a colored bead sorting task. Analysis of each task found significant differences between the AN subjects and the HC subjects. When examining the text-replication task, the Anorexia Nervosa subjects took significantly longer than the healthy controls; however, the quality of replication was substantially higher from the AN participants. When looking at the colored bead sorting task, the researchers examined which subjects checked their work to ensure correct completion. They found that there was an overall trend towards more AN subjects choosing to double-check their work than subjects of the HC group. Although because some HC participants chose to check their work, they also examined the total amount of time it took each subject to check the completion of sorting. The results showed that on average, the AN participants took a much longer time checking than that of the HC group. After careful analysis of the results, the conclusion was reached that the conducted study provided empirical evidence of elevated performance based perfectionism in Anorexia Nervosa subjects when compared with a healthy control group.

The last study I researched looked to analyze the effects of the culture around us and a common socio-cultural factor that may lead to Anorexia Nervosa. The study looked to understand how the pressures and expectations of a particular field of profession influence the development of such a harmful eating disorder. The researchers examined a population of 239 professional dancers and modeling students. Due to their professions, the condition and shape of their body was of the utmost importance. The heights and weights of all participants were obtained and the researchers evaluated the symptoms of AN on each subject by administering the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT). In order to understand the significance of the results, after further analysis of the data, the research team concluded that both pressures to achieve and the pressures to look slim are both risk factors in the overall development of Anorexia Nervosa.

If given more opportunity, time, and resources to conduct my own research/experiment about potentially factors that may lead to AN, I would try to examine a psychological factor such as mood. My experiment would hope to uncover any correlation or direct relationship between personality and the rates of development of AN. I would sample 300 subjects (150 diagnosed with AN, 150 Healthy Controls) aged 16-24 years old as this is one of the most common age ranges to see development of Anorexia Nervosa. In order to discover this relationship, I would have to administer a Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) to designed to elicit stories that reveal their personality. This particular test is highly reliable, and the validity is high as well, making it an acceptable method of understanding each person’s personality type. I then would examine the results of each subject and compare them to whether the patient was an HC or AN subject. This obviously would be a correlational study and would only allow me to see a potentially trend in the type of personality and whether each participant had developed AN. This experiment in no way would allow me to conclude causation; however, the results of the test could offer Psychologists important information into which personality groups are more at risk than others. The ultimate goal is to lower the overall development rates of this disastrous eating disorder and even the smallest piece of information could lead the scientific community one step closer to saving a countless amount of lives.

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