Mouse‐cursor trajectories reveal reduced contextual influence on decision conflict during delay discounting in anorexia nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Objective: The capacity of individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) to forgo immediate food rewards in their long-term pursuit of thinness is thought to reflect elevated self-control and/or abnormal reward sensitivity. Prior research attempted to capture an increased tendency to delay gratification in AN using delay-discounting tasks that assess how rapidly the subjective value of rewards decreases as a function of time until receipt. However, significant effects were mostly subtle or absent. Here, we tested whether the process leading to such decisions might be altered in AN. Method: We recorded mouse-cursor movement trajectories leading to the final choice in a computerized delay-discounting task (238 trials) in 55 acutely underweight females with AN and pairwise age-matched female healthy controls (HC). We tested for group differences in deviations from a direct choice path, a measure of conflict strength in decision making, and whether group moderated the effect of several predictors of conflict strength (e.g., choice difficulty, consistency). We also explored reaction times and changes in trajectory directions (X-flips). Results: No group differences in delay-discounting parameters or movement trajectories were detected. However, the effect of the aforementioned predictors on deviations (and to a lesser extent reaction times) was reduced in AN. Discussion: These findings suggest that while delay discounting and conflict strength in decision making are generally unaltered in AN, conflict strength was more stable across different decisions in the disorder. This might enable individuals with AN to pursue (maladaptive) long-term body-weight goals, because particularly conflicting choices may not be experienced as such. Public Significance: The deviations from a direct path of mouse-cursor movements during a computerized delay-discounting task varied less in people with anorexia nervosa. Assuming such deviations measure decision conflict, we speculate that this increased stability might help people with anorexia nervosa achieve their long-term weight goals, as for them the struggle with the decision to eat high-calorie meals when hungry will be milder, so they would be more likely to skip them.


Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2023

External IDs

unpaywall 10.1002/eat.24019
Scopus 85164515947
WOS 001020235800001
ORCID /0000-0002-2864-5578/work/142233502
ORCID /0000-0002-4408-6016/work/142234419
ORCID /0000-0003-2132-4445/work/142236371
ORCID /0000-0002-6152-5834/work/142241985
ORCID /0000-0002-5112-405X/work/142242690
ORCID /0000-0002-5026-1239/work/142250315


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

Subject groups, research areas, subject areas according to Destatis

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • anorexia nervosa, decision making, delay discounting, delayed gratification, eating disorders, impulsive behavior, mouse-cursor tracking, reward, self-control, Self-control, Decision making, Eating disorders, Anorexia nervosa, Delay discounting, Mouse-cursor tracking, Impulsive behavior, Reward, Delayed gratification