Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Reward and Punishment Sensitivity and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Men and Women

Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Reward and Punishment Sensitivity and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Men and Women

Article excerpt

Author(s): Kalina T. Eneva[sup.1], Susan Murray[sup.1], Jared O'Garro-Moore[sup.1], Angelina Yiu[sup.1], Lauren B. Alloy[sup.1], Nicole M. Avena[sup.2] and Eunice Y. Chen[sup.1]

Plain English Summary

The current study explored associations between reward and punishment sensitivity and key behavioral features of eating disorders in women and men. This study demonstrates significant associations between high reward and punishment sensitivities and specific eating disorder behaviors in both males and females. Specifically, both reward and punishment sensitivity were positively associated with binge eating in males and females. Further, high sensitivity to reward was positively associated with compensatory behaviors among women. Additional research aimed at further understanding the role of reward and punishment sensitivity in the development and maintenance of eating disorders is needed.

Highlights

* Rates of binge eating and compensatory weight control behaviors were similar between college-aged males and females.

* Females who engaged in compensatory behaviors did so more frequently than males who engaged in compensatory behaviors.

* Sensitivity to punishment was greater in females, whereas sensitivity to reward was greater in males.

* Reward and punishment sensitivity were each positively associated with binge eating in both males and females.

* Reward sensitivity was positively associated with compensatory behaviors in females.

Background

Heightened reward sensitivity, a measure of an individual's tendency to seek out and experience pleasure from positive reinforcement, is proposed as a vulnerability for Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa [1-3], eating disorders that affect approximately 3.6% of individuals in the United States [4]. Heightened reward sensitivity may increase the salience of food taste and promote overeating and is proposed to be part of the impulsivity construct [5-10]. In addition to aberrant reward sensitivity, individuals across the range of eating disorders show heightened punishment sensitivity, defined by the avoidance of negative responses and consequences [2, 11-13]. Associations between punishment sensitivity and symptoms of bulimia have prompted the hypothesis that higher punishment sensitivity may be related to an increased fear of being overweight which may lead to greater weight control behaviors [14]. Taken together, it is postulated that the binge-purge cycle is perpetuated in part by greater reward sensitivity driving binge eating and greater punishment sensitivity contributing to compensatory weight control behaviors (e.g., fasting, laxative use, diuretic use, vomiting).

Reward sensitivity and punishment sensitivity have also been shown to differ by gender. A meta-analysis found that relative to men, women tend to report greater reward dependence, or the tendency to respond intensely to signals of reward [15], whereas men report significantly higher sensation seeking, or the tendency to seek experiences and feelings that are novel, pleasurable and intense [16]. Further, women demonstrate greater punishment sensitivity compared to men [16]. The majority of studies examining associations between reward and punishment sensitivities and eating disorders have included only female clinical samples. However, 7.5% of men in a large non-clinical sample reported binge eating [17], suggesting that further research aimed at understanding specific factors that may motivate binge eating, such as reward and punishment sensitivity, in men is warranted.

We first examined and compared the prevalence of binge eating and compensatory behaviors in each gender among a sample of college students. We hypothesized that women would be more likely to engage in binge eating and compensatory behaviors and would report greater sensitivity to both reward and punishment than men [15, 16]. Further, we predicted that reward sensitivity is positively associated with binge eating [5] and that punishment sensitivity is positively associated with compensatory behaviors [14]. …

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