A systematic review of reviews of neurocognitive functioning in eating disorders: The state-of-the-literature and future directions

Kathryn E. Smith*, Tyler B. Mason, Jeffrey S. Johnson, Jason M. Lavender, Stephen A. Wonderlich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Objective: In recent years there has been increasing clinical and empirical interest in neurocognitive functioning in eating disorders (EDs), which has resulted in numerous quantitative and qualitative reviews. However, there has yet to be a comprehensive synthesis or critical review of this literature to identify future directions to advance the field in this area. Therefore the aim of this systematic review of systematic reviews was to (a) characterize the existing literature on neurocognitive functioning in EDs based on recent reviews (i.e., published since 2010), (b) describe related limitations, and (c) suggest avenues for future research to address gaps in the current literature. Method: Electronic databases were queried for reviews of neurocognitive domains (i.e., inhibitory control, decision-making, central coherence, set-shifting, working memory, and attention bias) in EDs, which identified 28 systematic and meta-analytic reviews. Results: Broadly, the literature indicates deficits across these neurocognitive domains in EDs, though heterogeneity was noted in the magnitude of these effects, which varied to some extent across ED subtypes, sample characteristics, and methodological approaches. Discussion: While these reviews have generally suggested varying patterns of neurocognitive deficits across EDs, there remain critical limitations regarding the methodological quality of these studies (e.g., the lack of prospective designs, consideration of confounding influences, or examination of interrelationships between neurocognitive domains and relationships between neurocognition and other relevant behavioral constructs). Specifically, we outline 10 key areas that are imperative to address in future research in this area in order to move our field forward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)798-821
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • anorexia nervosa
  • binge-eating disorder
  • bulimia nervosa
  • executive functioning
  • neurocognition


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