The cognitive drivers of compulsive eating behavior

Research output: Contribution to journalShort SurveyOtherpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Compulsivity is a central feature of obsessive-compulsive and addictive disorders, which share considerable overlap with excessive eating in terms of repetitive behavior despite negative consequences. Excessive eating behavior is characteristic of several eating-related conditions, including eating disorders [bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED)], obesity, and food addiction (FA). Compulsivity is proposed to be driven by four distinct cognitive components, namely, contingency-related cognitive flexibility, task/attentional set-shifting, attentional bias/disengagement and habit learning. However, it is unclear whether repetitive behavior in eating-related conditions is underpinned by deficits in these cognitive components. The current mini-review synthesizes the available evidence for performance on compulsivity-related cognitive tasks for each cognitive domain among populations with excessive eating behavior. In three of the four cognitive domains, i.e., set-shifting, attentional bias and habit learning, findings were mixed. Evidence more strongly pointed towards impaired contingency-related cognitive flexibility only in obesity and attentional bias/disengagement deficits only in obesity and BED. Overall, the findings of the reviewed studies support the idea that compulsivity-related cognitive deficits are common across a spectrum of eating-related conditions, although evidence was inconsistent or lacking for some disorders. We discuss the theoretical and practical importance of these results, and their implications for our understanding of compulsivity in eating-related conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number338
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2019


  • Binge eating
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Compulsivity
  • Eating behavior
  • Food addiction
  • Obesity

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