Data from: Neurobiology of social reward valuation in adults with a history of anorexia nervosa


Objective: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a disorder characterized by atypical patterns of reward valuation (e.g. positive valuation of hunger). Atypical reward processing may extend into social domains. If so, such findings would be of prognostic significance as impaired social functioning predicts worse outcome. We explore neural circuits implicated in social reward processing in individuals with a history of AN who are weight-restored relative to controls and examine the effects of illness course on the experience of social value. Method: 20 weight-restored individuals with a history of AN (AN-WR) and 24 healthy control (HC) participants were assessed using fMRI tasks that tapped social reward: smiling faces and full human figures that varied in attractiveness and weight. Results: AN-WR differed from HC in attractiveness ratings by weight (negatively correlated in AN-WR). While there were no significant differences when viewing smiling faces, viewing full figures resulted in decreased activation in regions implicated in reward valuation (the right caudate) for AN-WR and this region was negatively correlated with a sustained course of the disorder. Exploratory whole brain analyses revealed reduced activation in regions associated with social reward, self-referential processing, and cognitive reappraisal (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, striatum, and nucleus accumbens) with sustained disorder course. Discussion: The rewarding value of full body images decreases with a sustained disorder course. This may reflect an extension of atypical reward processing documented in AN-WR, perhaps as a function of starvation dampening visceral motivational signals; the deployment of cognitive strategies that lessen the experience of reward; and/or the nature of the stimuli themselves as provocative of eating disorder symptoms (e.g., thin bodies). These findings did not extend to smiling face stimuli. Advances in technology (e.g., virtual avatars, text messaging) may provide novel means to build relationships, including therapeutic relationships, to support improved social connections without threats to symptom provocation.

Data Access

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Erwin, S; Datta, N; Huettel, S; Winecoff, AA; Zucker, NL; Sweitzer, MM; Watson, K; Platt, M

Published Date

  • November 27, 2018

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.7924/r45t3km1m