Risky Decision Making in College Students as a Function of Self-Reported Eating Behaviors

Wesley R. Barnhart, Melissa T. Buelow


Individuals with eating disorder diagnoses may experience difficulties with decision making, in which the focus is placed on immediate gains at the expense of long-term outcomes. Previous research showed decision making deficits in Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. However, many college-aged individuals engage in disordered eating behaviors (e.g., food restriction and ritualistic caloric consumption) that do not meet criteria for an eating disorder. We examined behavioral decision making in college students self-reporting a range of typical and atypical eating behaviors. Participants (n = 550) completed an online session that assessed eating behaviors. Of these, 110 participants then completed the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and Game of Dice Task (GDT) as part of a separate, in-lab session. A total of 11.27% of screening session participants scored above the cut-off score of 20 on the Eating Attitudes Test, indicating the presence of possible disordered eating behaviors. Multiple regressions indicated higher scores on the Eating Concern subscale of the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire were associated with decreased risk-taking on the IGT (fewer Deck B selections, p = .006; greater Deck D selections, p = .010). We failed to find significant predictors of GDT performance, ps > .232. The present results suggest that decision making deficits seen in eating disorder samples may not be present in individuals self-reporting disordered eating behaviors. However, this initial examination utilized college student participants, and it is important for replication to occur.

Keywords: eating behaviors, disordered eating, decision making, Iowa gambling task, game of dice task

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