Intimate stimuli result in fronto-parietal activation changes in anorexia nervosa

L. van Zutphen, S. Maier, N. Siep, G. A. Jacob, O. Tüscher, L. Tebartz van Elst, A. Zeeck, A. Arntz, M. F. O’Connor, H. Stamm, M. Hudek, Andreas Joos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Intimacy is a key psychological problem in anorexia nervosa (AN). Empirical evidence, including neurobiological underpinnings, is however, scarce. Objective: In this study, we evaluated various emotional stimuli including intimate stimuli experienced in patients with AN and non-patients, as well as their cerebral response. Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging was conducted using stimuli with positive, neutral, negative and intimate content. Participants (14 AN patients and 14 non-patients) alternated between passive viewing and explicit emotion regulation. Results: Intimate stimuli were experienced less positively in AN patients compared to non-patients. AN patients showed decreased cerebral responses in superior parietal cortices in response to positive and intimate stimuli. Intimate stimuli led to stronger activation of the orbitofrontal cortex, and lower activation of the bilateral precuneus in AN patients. Orbitofrontal responses decreased in AN patients during explicit emotion regulation. Conclusions: These results show that intimate stimuli are of particular importance in AN patients, who show experiential differences compared to non-patients and altered activation of orbitofrontal and parietal brain structures. This supports that AN patients have difficulties with intimacy, attachment, self-referential processing and body perception. Level of evidence: Level III, case–control study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1155-1164
Number of pages10
JournalEating and Weight Disorders
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Emotion regulation
  • Intimacy
  • Neuroimaging
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Precuneus
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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