Judgment Bias as a Predictor of Individual Differences in Eating, Shape, and Weight Concerns


There is substantial empirical evidence for an association between ED symptomatology and biases in the selective processing of body-shape information (i.e., attentional bias, memory bias, and interpretation bias; Rodgers & Dubois, 2016; Williamson et al., 1999). The attentional bias literature suggests that females with elevated eating pathology selectively attend to body stimuli connoting a thin physique if perceived as self-irrelevant (Dondzilo et al., 2017; Moussally et al., 2016), and body stimuli connoting a fat physique if they can be perceived as self-relevant (Smith & Rieger, 2006). Research suggests attentional bias towards body shape information may also play a causal role in the maintenance and exacerbation of ED symptomatology (Smith & Rieger, 2009). Cognitive theory suggests that memory biases – the tendency to unduly recall information related to shape and weight – exist within ED patients (Vitousek & Hollon, 1990). Specifically, women with subclinical and clinical ED pathology have been shown to display selective memory for information consistent with ‘fat’ words (Baker et al., 1995; Sebastian et al., 1996). Further, fatness interpretation biases – the tendency to interpret ambiguous body-related information on the basis of being fat – have been found both in ED populations and in individuals with elevated body dissatisfaction (Bradatsch et al., 2020; Williamson et al., 2000).    These observed differences in biased cognitive processing between low and high eating pathology may be explained by a discrepancy in the judgment process of the shape of bodies – i.e., a judgment bias – which has not been empirically investigated within the ED literature. Specifically, it is proposed that when individuals with elevated eating pathology are presented with a body, they may have a speeded tendency to judge the body based on its’ shape, relative to a shape-irrelevant dimension. Existing research has also demonstrated the potential modification of information-processing biases to be used as a therapeutic intervention (Bar-Haim, 2010; Dondzilo et al., 2020). Thus, examining whether a judgment bias for shape exists within females with elevated body dissatisfaction and disordered eating could further enhance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that are crucial in informing more effective treatments for EDs.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

(i) Is a judgment bias for body shape associated with trait facets of ED symptomatology?    (ii) Does a judgment bias for body shape predict state facets of ED symptomatology in daily life?


105 to date - data collection is still ongoing.    To be eligible, participants had to (i) be aged 18-24 years, (ii) own an Apple or Android smartphone, (iii) be fluent in English, (iv) be first year Psychology students from the University of Melbourne, and (v) not be currently completing another Smartphone EMA (SEMA3) study.


Measures    Part A    Trait Questionnaires.    (i) Sociodemographics and questions assessing self-reported current/ previous ED diagnoses and body mass index (BMI)    (ii) Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDEQ; Fairburn & Beglin, 2008)    (iii) Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ; Cooper et al., 1987)    (iv) Ruminative Response Scale for Eating Disorders (RRS-ED; Cowdrey & Park, 2011). (v) Clinical Perfectionism Questionnaire (CPQ; Egan et al., 2015)    Part B    Photo Selection Task. Participants will complete a photo selection task to ensure that body images used in the JBT are subjectively perceived as thin or fat (see Appendix B).    JBT. The JBT will be used to assess for a shape-related judgment bias (see Appendix C).    Part C    SEMA3 will signal six times a day at semi-random intervals between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm for seven consecutive days commencing the day after completion of the JBT. Each signal will prompt participants to complete a survey assessing state body satisfaction, mood, body comparison behaviours, and ED urges.


Judgment bias scores, which reflect the degree to which the latency to judge bodies was disproportionately speeded when the judgment required concerned shape (thin/fat) rather than profile direction (right/left), will be calculated using the following formula:    (mean response latency (ms) for profile direction judgments − mean response latency (ms) for shape judgments)    Thus, a greater score indicates a greater bias in judging on shape, relative to a shape-irrelevant feature.    Research Question One    A correlational analysis will be used to assess the relationship between judgment bias scores and trait levels of ED symptomatology.    Research Question Two    The relationship between judgment bias and state measure EMA scores will be assessed using multilevel modelling to account for the nesting of measurement occasions within participants. Bayesian estimation will be used to handle missing data, and analyses will be undertaken using R.