Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Suzanne Mazzeo


Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, have profound negative effects on the quality of life of both affected individuals and their families. Behavioral approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are commonly used for the treatment of these disorders. CBT teaches skills to restructure maladaptive thought patterns as a method of altering feelings and behaviors. However, even after CBT, 50-70% of women with bulimia and 67-87% of women with anorexia report continued eating disordered thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Measuring underlying cognitive processes such as orienting, maintaining, and executive attention in individuals with eating disorder symptomatology might be an important first step in improving these existing therapies. Attentional biases can be identified using a variety of techniques, including eye movement in response to stimuli (gaze patterns; focal points) as assessed by sophisticated eye tracking tasks. The current project sought to evaluate eye movement behavior related to body dissatisfaction, and to assess the feasibility of modifying attention. Participants (N = 1017) completed survey measures assessing disordered eating and body image (n = 1011), and participants meeting eligibility requirements participated in the in-person eye-tracking assessment (n = 85). Overall, longer gaze duration was associated with more dissatisfying body regions, and the attention modification intervention decreased time spent looking at the most dissatisfying region. Gaze time on the most dissatisfying body region was not different for self images compared with other images, nor was there an influence of level of shape concern. Body image anxiety also reduced after the attention modification intervention. These results suggest that it is feasible to modify attention biases related to body dissatisfaction. Implications and future extensions of this study are discussed.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2013

Included in

Psychology Commons