People With Anorexia May Experience Less Pleasure From Physical Touch

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Individuals with anorexia experience numerous well-documented side-effects and symptoms that can take a severe toll on their bodies, but some physical issues associated with the disorder are still being discovered.

A Ph.D. student at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK recently found that individuals with anorexia nervosa experience less pleasure from physical touch in social interactions compared to healthy people of the same age. According to researcher Laura Crunianelli, the cause of this phenomenon may be related to a problem with a nerve system known as CT-afferents, which is specialized for perceiving pleasant touch.

The new research, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, was conducted at a multi-institutional research lab called KatLab, which brings together researchers from the United Kingdom, specifically those from the University of Hertfordshire, University College London, and King’s College London.

Little research has been done into how individuals with anorexia process social interactions, but several social deficiencies have been identified and are believed to contribute to the onset of the disorder. Crunianelli and colleagues were inspired by this to explore whether similar deficiencies were found in perceived CT-afferent touch during those interactions.

Dr Paul Jenkinson from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire who co-supervised the research, comments: “Our previous research in healthy volunteers has demonstrated the importance of pleasant touch in creating a strong and healthy sense of body ownership. The current study takes this a step further and demonstrates how disorders like anorexia might be linked to a lack of pleasurable feelings coming from the body itself”.

Dr. Aikaterini Fotopoulou, who leads KatLab at UCL, added: “The understanding of anorexia has long been divided between scientists who believe the disorder is caused by abnormal biological mechanisms of eating and body perception and those who claim that it is caused by difficulties in social relations and emotions about the body. This study is the first step towards an integration of these views, suggesting that the ways we are touched by others may influence the biological mechanisms by which we form an emotional relation with our body.”

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