Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald A. Williamson


Overconcern or preoccupation with body size and weight is a central psychopathological feature of the eating disorders. The overconcern with body size is considered to be a function of fear of weight gain or "fear of fatness". Cognitive theories of psychopathology have hypothesized that fear results in an increased activation of cognitive structures associated with the feared object. This increased activation (priming) is hypothesized to enhance the processing of information related to the feared object. This study tested this hypothesis using a lexical decision task. Individuals with extreme body size preoccupation were evaluated for a selective information processing of body size related words and food related words. Subjects with high body size preoccupation, i.e. a score of 110 or greater on the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ), correctly identified significantly more food and body words when compared to subjects with low concern about body size, i.e. a score of 50 or less on the BSQ. The groups did not differ on identification of control words. These results were interpreted as support for the anxiety model of eating disorders and cognitive theories of psychopathology.