Objective: People with anorexia nervosa often exhibit inefficiencies in executive functioning (central coherence and set shifting) that may negatively impact on treatment outcomes. It is unclear from previous research whether these inefficiencies can change over treatment. We aimed to (1) investigate whether executive functioning can improve over treatment, (2) determine whether baseline executive functioning moderates treatment outcome, and (3) examine whether baseline executive functioning predicts early change (i.e., increase in body mass index over the first 13 weeks of treatment) or remission.
Method: We conducted linear mixed model and logistic regression analyses on data from the Strong Without Anorexia Nervosa trial (Byrne et al. in Psychol Med 47:2823–2833, 2017). This study was a randomised controlled trial of three outpatient treatments for people with anorexia nervosa: Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Maudsley Model Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults, and Specialist Supportive Clinical Management.
Results: While set shifting clearly improved from baseline to end of treatment, the results for central coherence were less clear cut. People with low baseline central coherence had more rapid reductions in eating disorder psychopathology and clinical impairment than those with high baseline central coherence. Baseline executive functioning did not predict early change or remission.
Discussion: The detail-focused thinking style commonly observed among people with anorexia nervosa may aid treatment outcomes. Future research that is more adequately powered should replicate this study and examine whether the same pattern of results is observed among people with non-underweight eating disorders.
- Anorexia nervosa
- Central coherence
- Executive functioning
- Outpatient treatment
- Set shifting