Sunday, December 02, 2007

Preventing anorexia: are these traits predictive?

A very small, and possibly completely misleading study, suggests some personality traits associated with anorexia - and probably with success in medical school ...
BBC NEWS | Health | Anorexia visible with brain scans

... While the brain region for emotional responses - the anterior ventral striatum - showed strong differences for winning and losing the game in the healthy women, women with a past history of anorexia showed little difference between winning and losing...

...Another brain area, called the caudate, which is involved in linking actions to outcome and planning, was far more active in the women with a history of anorexia compared to the control group.

The anorexia group tended to have exaggerated and obsessive worry about the consequences of their behaviours, looked for rules where there were none and were overly concerned about making mistakes, said Dr Kaye.

He said: "There are some positive aspects to this kind of temperament. Paying attention to detail and making sure things are done as correctly as possible are constructive traits in careers such as medicine or engineering."
I haven't been following anorexia research, but I assume they were watching for these traits based on prior studies. I agree these are great traits for many medical careers. Equanimity about winning or losing, combined with a passion for meeting expectations and following rules, works well in many modern careers.

Now if you have a young daughter who doesn't seem to care about winning or losing, but who is happiest with expectations and rules in all settings, should you worry about anorexia?

It would depend on the positive predictive value of those traits. To simplify, they might turn out be required but not sufficient; they might be universal in anorexics, but also common in non-anorexics.

It would be nice to know the predictive power though. If they turned out to predictive traits, then parents could try avoid reinforcing some traits, while encouraging others. At the very least, one could keep a watchful eye on food behaviors ...

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