60-Second Health

Anorexics Display Behaviors Common in Autism

Understanding that, for example, anorexics and autists both tend to have high interest in systems could inform treatment choices. Erika Beras reports

Anorexia and autism appear very different. But a British study by autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues finds that teenage girls diagnosed with anorexia score high on standard tests for autism. Their report is in the journal Molecular Autism. [Simon Baron-Cohen et al., Do girls with anorexia nervosa have elevated autistic traits?]

The researchers say that traits indicative of both disorders parallel each other. Anorexia and autism are characterized by obsessive, repetitive behaviors, by difficulties with social interactions and an above-average interest in systems. For autistic boys that might mean a fixation with math or maps. For anorexic girls, that translates into an obsession with food, weight and their bodies.

Both groups exhibit below-average empathy, rigid attitudes and an atypical preoccupation with themselves.

Understanding the behavioral connection between the two conditions could inform treatment choices for anorexia. For example, the researchers suggest that recognizing the fact that info about systems is easier to process than info about emotions may help in developing useful coping strategies.

—Erika Beras

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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