How do eating disorders develop? And how can they be researched? We spoke to psychologist Annika Lutz about the current research into a widespread problem.
Dr Lutz, in your PhD thesis (funded through FNR’s AFR programme), you investigated anorexia in young women. What did you discover?
“These women experience a strong distortion of the perception of their bodies. Even after losing a lot of weight, they still feel too big.
“I, for example, conducted a study where I measured the brainwaves of the participants while they were looking at a picture of themselves – after just 160 milliseconds of looking at the photo, they showed clear differences when compared to healthy persons.
“This short space of time is an interval during which the brain analyses very basic aspects of the photo, such as contrast and brightness. The perception of the own body is fundamentally changed in people suffering from anorexia.”
How does this disruption come about? Are there specific risks?
“There are many factors that play a role here: genetic influence; eating and digestive troubles as a child; but also personality traits, for example perfectionism.
“At the end it is a very complex pattern of risk factors in the individual cases, and it varies strongly.”
Which role does society play? Are there more eating disorders today than there used to be?
“Apart from the listed risk factors, the slimness ideal and the societal beauty ideals also play a role.
“In principle, we assume that eating disorders became more frequent and widespread in the second half of the last century. But it is difficult to get reliable data on the development of eating disorders. One reason is for example that the criteria used to diagnose an eating disorder have not existed for that long, and another is that not everyone with an eating disorder has chosen to receive treatment.”
Where does an eating disorder begin?
“As soon as you notice that it has a big influence on your mood. People affected by it withdraw from the people around them, loose interests and begin to structure their whole day around eating and the compensation. Of course we also have official criteria, listed in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Eating Disorders’. This catalogue also includes bulimia and binge eating disorders.”
Is this also something you are researching?
“We are just starting a promising new study on bulimia – we want to find out which effects negative emotions have on eating behaviour. In the study we will measure brainwaves and investigate how food items are perceived in particular mood settings.”
When will you start the experiments?
“At the moment, we are searching for female participants over 18 years of age – healthy participants as controls, and women with bulimia. This study will be very interesting, because through the measurements of the brainwaves we can observe processes that lie beyond conscious thinking. Any interested parties can get in touch with us if they would like to participate.”
If you would like to take part in this study, contact Dr Annika Lutz on firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +352 46 66 44 9682.
This article was originally published on science.lu in German and French on 2 January 2017.
The project, EMO-EAT, is supported by an FNR CORE grant until 2018.
Cemeteries are multifunctional public spaces – funeral services are provided, loved ones are laid to rest – they are ‘sacred’ in the widest sense, but also frequently used as public parks – a diverse mix of people converge on these spaces of shared use. In Luxembourg City’s cemeteries conformity reigns, far from reflecting the diversity of the population. How this affects migrants and minorities is being explored as part of the international project ‘CeMi’, which examines the use and management of cemeteries as important but understudied public spaces.
To many, the Middle Ages are synonymous with the term the ‘Dark Ages’ – a time of decline. The term was coined hundreds of years ago by the era referring to itself as the ‘Renaissance’ – a rebirth of norms and standards. There is in fact much more to the complexity of the Middle Ages and historians are working on overcoming these antiquated ideas. For this research, Dr Christa Birkel won a 2021 FNR Award in the category ‘Outstanding PhD Thesis’.
Flooding presents a major hazard in both rural and urban areas. Luxembourg was also affected by the significant floods that devastated parts of Germany in July 2021. With the goal of predicting areas that will flood, scientists are working on various aspects of flood-mapping using satellite data.
Nobody is untouched by environmental chemical pollution, but most are unaware of how they are exposed, what to, and the possible health consequences. With over 350,000 registered chemicals in use, an important first step towards assessing their environmental impacts is to make chemical information more machine-readable and open. Environmental Cheminformatics is on the case.
Melanoma is a rare type of skin cancer, but it is the deadliest type – and incidence is on the rise. Metastatic melanoma has seen a rapid emergence in drug resistance: After a few months, treatment stops working and tumours begin to grow again. Molecular biologists are working to understand why this happens.
A rapid increase in both life expectancy and global population size has led to a rise in the prevalence of chronic ageing-associated diseases. Brain and heart age-associated diseases including hypertension, stroke, heart failure, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are leading causes of mortality and disability worldwide. Researchers are working on much-needed ways to predict these diseases.
Looking at popular culture, big tech and ongoing societal debates – technological progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI) affects us all. Researchers from numerous scientific fields are working on the best way to bring AI forward, including the study of systems able to autonomously reason over arguments – calculators for philosophical, ethical or legal debates.
In the last decades, how research is conducted has been profoundly changed by ICT, and there has also been a shift from the ‘sole genius’ towards teamwork and especially interdisciplinarity: Today, millions of researchers worldwide collaborate across organisational, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries, extending the possibilities of new scientific discovery. This, and the associated data, has paved the way for the scientific field Science of Science, where one key question is understanding exactly how scientific quality is fostered by research collaboration.
Using solar absorbers for collection and storage of heat from the sun is an environmentally friendly way to generate heat, yet only 16% of heating is generated from renewable energy. Material scientists are looking for ways to boost this number by making the solar absorber coatings more efficient.