Another Measure of Personality in Eating Disorders

Results from the Five Factor Model may enhance treatment and improve outcome.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February Volume 27, Number 1
©2016 iaedp

Perfectionism, impulsivity, neuroticism, and sensation-seeking are all thought to be elements underlying eating disorders. A group at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, report that identifying and focusing on eating disorders patients’ personality traits may enhance treatment, address underlying problems, and improve outcome.

Dr. Johanna Levallius and her colleagues used the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality to assess personality traits among 208 non-anorexic eating disorders patients and 94 age-matched controls (J Eat Disord. 2015. 3:3). The FFM delineates five broad traits–extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience–that encompass most differences in personality across individuals. Relatively few studies have examined FFM dimensions in eating disorders patients, according to the authors, and the results of those studies have generally shown high neuroticism, low extraversion, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness.

The 208 female patients in the study were outpatients who had been treated for bulimia nervosa or eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) between 2010 and 2013 at the Stockholm Centre for Eating Disorders. Participants had mean scores corresponding to the 95th percentile on the Eating Disorder Examination. The 94 female controls were either university students in various courses or employees from various companies in Stockholm. Patients and controls completed a series of other tests including the Clinical Impairment Assessment and the Structured Eating Disorders Interview.

Patient profile: less joy, warmth, or love

Overall, the patients with eating disorders differed significantly from controls in that they had higher pervasive negative affectivity vulnerability and less joy, warmth, and love. Patients also reported a tendency to self-doubt, were self-effacing, and lacked trust in others. They also tended to avoid social gatherings and seemed to be less open to exploring new areas, emotions, ideas, or activities. They reported a tendency to procrastination and had impulsivity.

Dr. Levallius and her team suggest the results of their study provide new information on the relationship between eating disorders and the most common personality trait model used today. Personality explained 9% to 25% of the variance in general psychopathology and eating disorder pathology. Patients differed markedly from controls in regards to personality, and certain facets of the patients’ personalities, especially trust, achievement striving, and some areas of neuroticism may be important for better understanding eating disorders. They suggest that future research target the interplay between personality traits and eating disorders.

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