Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald A. Williamson


Clinical observations suggest that persons with an eating disorder are obsessed about body size and shape. This obsession with body size and shape has been hypothesized to lead to biased processing of body related information. Recent research indicates that individuals who are highly preoccupied with their weight tend to react to body related stimuli with negative emotions and tend to infer a negative meaning when information about their own body shape is presented within an ambiguous context. This study investigated this type of judgment bias in eating disorder and body dysphoric subjects. In addition, this study examined the ability to modify distorted cognitive processing when instructed to do so. Women diagnosed with an eating disorder (n = 30), body dysphoric women (n = 30), and nonsymptomatic women (n = 30), were recruited as subjects for this experiment. In phase 1 of the experiment, subjects were instructed to imagine themselves in situations described by body related ambiguous sentences. The ambiguous body related sentences could be interpreted with either a positive (non-fatness) or a negative (fatness) meaning. Results on a subsequent memory task indicated that eating disorder and body dysphoric subjects recalled their imagery of the body related situations with a negative "fear of fatness" interpretation. Whereas, nonsymptomatic control subjects recalled their imagery with a positive interpretation. In phase 2 of this experiment, the ability of the eating disorder, and body dysphoric subjects to change their cognitions was examined. Subjects were instructed to imagine themselves in each ambiguous situation (as they did in the original task), but this time they were asked to imagine the scenes in either a positive or negative fashion. Half of the subjects in each group received positive instructions, and the remaining half of the subjects received negative instructions. Results indicated that the eating disorder and body dysphoric groups were able to modify their imagery and subsequent cognitions.