Journal article Open Access

Mood-induced changes in the cortical processing of food images in bulimia nervosa

Lutz, Annika P.C.; Dierolf, Angelika; van Dyck, Zoé; Georgii, Claudio; Schnepper, Rebekka; Blechert, Jens; Vögele, Claus

Background: Negative mood often triggers binge eating in bulimia nervosa (BN). We investigated motivational salience as a possible underlying mechanism using event-related potentials (ERPs) as indicators of motivated attention allocation (P300) and sustained processing (LPP).

Methods: We collected ERPs (P300: 350–400 ms; LPP: 600–1000 ms) from 21 women with full-syndrome or partially remitted BN and 21 healthy women (HC), matched for age and body mass index. Idiosyncratic negative and neutral situations were used to induce corresponding mood states (counterbalanced), before participants viewed images of high- and low-calorie foods and neutral objects, and provided ratings for pleasantness and desire to eat.

Results: P300 was larger for foods than objects; LPP was largest for high-calorie foods, followed by low-calorie foods, then objects. The BN group showed an increased desire to eat high-calorie foods under negative mood and stronger mood induction effects on ERPs than the HC group, with generally reduced P300 and a small increase in LPP for high-calorie foods. Effects were limited to circumscribed electrode positions. Exploratory analyses showed clearer effects when comparing high vs. low emotional eaters.

Conclusion: We argue that negative mood decreased the availability of cognitive resources (decreased P300) in BN, thereby facilitating disinhibition and food cravings (increased desire-to-eat ratings). Increased sustained processing might be linked to emotional eating tendencies rather than BN pathology per se, and reflect approach motivation, conflict, or regulatory processes. Negative mood appears to induce complex changes in food image processing, whose understanding may contribute to the development of tailored interventions in the future.

This work was supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) [grant number 8371546] and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [grant number I02130-B27].
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