An investigation into the relationship between eating disorder psychopathology and autistic symptomatology in a non-clinical sample

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • Authors:
  • Elizabeth Coombs
  • Mark Brosnan
  • Rachel Bryant-Waugh
  • Suzanne M. Skevington


Objective. Female adults with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN) have been found to score higher than healthy controls on a questionnaire that measures characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This research investigated the relationship between eating disorder (ED) and ASD symptomatology in a non-clinical sample, with an additional focus on prenatal testosterone (pT) levels. Design. A cross-sectional research design was used. The selected age group of both males and females allowed for a focus on early onset of ED symptomatology in both sexes. Methods. Self-reported questionnaire data from the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) were collected from 132 schoolchildren (61 boys, 71 girls) aged 11 to 14, with no recorded psychiatric diagnoses. Digit ratio (2D:4D) measures to index levels of pT exposure were also obtained. Results. A significant relationship between levels of ED symptomatology and ASD symptomatology was identified. Particularly strong relationships were identified between the EAT-26 and the attention to detail and communication subscales of the AQ. Few relationships were found for digit ratios. Conclusion. The results extend previous research from a sample with a diagnosis of AN to a non-clinical population. Those registering higher levels of ED symptomatology also reported higher levels of attention to detail and communication difficulties associated with ASD. © 2010 The British Psychological Society.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-338
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011