News Release

Binge-eating is not caused by stress-induced impulsivity

Stress alters brain activity in inhibition network but doesn't prompt binge-eating, contrary to theory

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Neuroscience

Binge-Eating Is Not Caused by Stress-Induced Impulsivity

image: Impaired proactive inhibition in bulimia nervosa is associated with increased superior frontal gyrus activity. view more 

Credit: Westwater et al., JNeurosci 2021

Stress alters brain activity in self-inhibition areas yet doesn't trigger binge-eating, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

People who binge-eat, a hallmark symptom of several eating disorders, can feel out of control and unable to stop, and often binge after stressful events. This led scientists to theorize stress impairs the brain regions responsible for inhibitory control -- the ability to stop what you are about to do or currently doing -- and triggers binge-eating.

Westwater et al. tested this theory by using fMRI to measure the brain activity of women with anorexia, bulimia, or without an eating disorder as they completed an inhibitory control task, either while stressed or relaxed. The task entailed pushing a button to stop a moving bar when it reached a specific point on the screen. On some trials the bar stopped early, and the participants had to prevent themselves from pushing the button. Stress altered the brain activity associated with inhibitory control in both groups of women with eating disorders but had no effect on task performance -- meaning they still had the ability to stop their actions. These results indicate self-inhibition is preserved in the face of stress, so the actual mechanism behind binge-eating is more complex than previously thought.


Paper title: Prefrontal Responses During Proactive and Reactive Inhibition Are Differentially Impacted by Stress in Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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