Recent models of bulimia nervosa (BN) propose that binge-purge episodes ultimately become automatic in response to cues and insensitive to negative outcomes. Here, we examined whether women with BN show alterations in instrumental learning and devaluation sensitivity using traditional and computational modeling analyses of behavioral data. Adult women with BN (n = 30) and group-matched healthy controls (n = 31) completed a task in which they first learned stimulus-response-outcome associations. Then, participants were required to repeatedly adjust their responses in a “baseline test”, when different sets of stimuli were explicitly devalued, and in a “slips-of-action test”, when outcomes instead of stimuli were devalued. The BN group showed intact behavioral sensitivity to outcome devaluation during the slips-of-action test, but showed difficulty overriding previously learned stimulus-response associations on the baseline test. Results from a Bayesian learner model indicated that this impaired performance could be accounted for by a slower pace of belief updating when a new set of previously learned responses had to be inhibited (p = 0.036). Worse performance and a slower belief update in the baseline test were each associated with more frequent binge eating (p = 0.012) and purging (p = 0.002). Our findings suggest that BN diagnosis and severity are associated with deficits in flexibly updating beliefs to withhold previously learned responses to cues. Additional research is needed to determine whether this impaired ability to adjust behavior is responsible for maintaining automatic and persistent binge eating and purging in response to internal and environmental cues.
|State||Published - Dec 2023|