Journal article Open Access

Defence mechanism and coping strategy use associated with self-reported eating pathology in a non-clinical sample

Coveney, Ashley; Olver, Mark

We examined the association of eating disorder traits (i.e., anorexia nervosa [AN] and bulimia nervosa [BN] traits) with the self-reported use of defence mechanisms and coping strategies. We also identified the specific mechanisms that best predicted eating disorder traits. The Eating Attitudes Test-40, Defense Style Questionnaire-40, and COPE scales were administered to a non-clinical sample of 429 students and staff. In general, individuals with elevated AN and BN traits reported using more immature/maladaptive defences and coping strategies. Linear regression models revealed that this association was more pronounced for defence mechanisms than coping strategies. High self-reported use of certain maladaptive defence mechanisms, particularly somatisation and displacement, most consistently predicted higher levels of self-reported AN and BN traits; coping strategies, however, were less frequently predictive of self-reported eating pathology. Some differences were also observed between males and females, particularly concerning levels of eating disorder traits. The results indicate that individuals reporting high levels of eating disorders are likely to display features of personality dysfunction; most prominently, high frequency use of maladaptive defences.

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