The relation between symptoms of bulimia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder: A startle investigation

Sarah E. Altman, Miranda L. Campbell, Brady D. Nelson, Julianne P. Faust, Stewart A Shankman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Bulimia nervosa (BN) and obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD) co-occur at greater rates than chance and may have shared mechanisms of dysfunction. One of these proposed mechanisms is a hyperresponsive aversive system as indicated by heightened startle response to aversive stimuli. The present study examined this hypothesis using 2 types of aversive stimuli: disorder specific (e.g., high-caloric food pictures for BN, contamination pictures for OCD) and nondisorder specific (e.g., knife). Temporal parameters of aversive responding were also examined by assessing startle response in anticipation of and following picture presentation. The sample consisted of 114 undergraduate women selected to have a broad range of BN and/or OCD symptomatology. OCD symptoms were associated with increased startle potentiation during the anticipation and presentation of contamination pictures, and BN symptoms were associated with increased startle potentiation during disorder-related contamination pictures (e.g., sink, toilet). BN symptoms were also associated with increased startle potentiation during and following the presentation of food pictures (though the former effect was only a trend). Additionally, the interaction of BN and OCD symptoms was associated with elevated startle responding during the presentation of contamination and threat stimuli. Overall, the present study provides evidence that BN and OCD symptoms are associated with heightened aversive responding to disorder-specific stimuli, and comorbid BN and OCD symptoms are associated with heightened aversive responding across disorder-specific and nonspecific aversive stimuli. Clinical and theoretical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1132-1141
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Volume122
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Keywords

  • Aversive system
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • OCD
  • Startle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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