Since evidence on executive control among women with Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa (AN/BN) are somehow inconclusive, we aimed to explore whether performance in set-shifting in AN/BN might be influenced by Facial Emotion Recognition (FER).
We randomly recruited women with a diagnosis of AN or BN, from an Eating Disorders Outpatient Clinic in Italy, as well as healthy controls (HCs). We evaluated with established tools: diagnosis (Eating Disorder Examination- EDE-17.0), executive control (Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift-IED) and FER (Ekman 60 Faces Test-EK-60F). Univariate distributions by diagnostic subgroups were assessed on sociodemographic and clinical variables, which were selected for subsequent multiple linear regression analyses.
Women with AN performed significantly worse than HCs on IED adjusted total errors. HCs scored significantly better than AN and BN on EK-60F fear subscale. Although IED set shifting was associated (p = 0.008) with AN, after controlling for age, EK-60F fear subscale, alexithymia and depression (i.e., clinically relevant covariates identified a priori from the literature, or associated with AN/BN at univariate level), this association could not be confirmed.
Impaired executive control may not be a distinctive feature in women with AN, since several clinical characteristics, including fear recognition ability, are likely to have an important role. This has significant implications for relevant interventions in AN, which should aim at also improving socio-emotional processing.