Negative illness representations such as self-blame impede treatment-seeking behavior and therapy motivation in individuals with eating disorders (EDs). However, only one study so far has investigated how different explanatory models influence these beliefs in EDs. We aimed to expand these findings by introducing an explanatory model based on network theory (NT).
We presented three explanatory models to a diverse web-recruited sample (n = 290, 141 females, 149 males) with clinically elevated ED symptomatology. Participants either watched a video with a biological-genetic (BG), cognitive-behavioral (CB) or an NT explanatory model and were asked about illness representations before and after watching the video.
The BG group showed significantly greater reductions in self-blame but a significant decrease in personal control and less optimistic expectation regarding timeline compared to the CB and NT groups. There were no group differences regarding the perception of the clinician, comprehensibility of the explanatory model and credibility of a CBT intervention.
Given the increasing popularity of biological-genetic explanatory models of EDs, it is important to note the disadvantages we found to be associated with these models. Our findings indicate that explanatory models emphasizing cognitive-behavioral (CB) principles and/or network theoretical (NT) underpinnings of EDs may serve to promote optimism and greater perceptions of personal agency in affected populations.
This trial’s registration number is 316.