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Feedback in Reading and Disordered Eating: Dialogues between Literature and Cognition

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Abstract

Feedback structures are crucial to the act of reading. This is especially clear in contexts for reading where the cognitive stakes are higher, for example, where psychopathology plays a role. Using disordered eating as a test case, this chapter shows how an understanding of the principles of feedback and stability—and in particular the distinction between positive and negative feedback—gives new insights into the psychiatrically relevant causes, experiences, and effects of reading. The evidence comes from existing theoretical and empirical work, and from a pilot study recently conducted in collaboration with the eating disorders charity Beat. By offering a framework for unifying diverse findings on the mechanisms of reading in general and on the cognitive components of specifically literary reading, the chapter makes the case for linking cognitive literary studies, the medical humanities, psychology, and psychiatry with systems and control theory, to theoretical and potentially therapeutic benefit. [Read a preview via Google Books at http://bit.ly/2F4PDV7]

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... There is, consequently, widespread testimony in the freeresponse data to the fact that textual engagement has the potential to intervene in the mind-body feedback loops that characterise the development and maintenance of eating disorders. As analysed in depth elsewhere [48], reading can both exacerbate unstable positive feedback loops (relating to mood, concentration, preoccupation with the eating disorder, and many other variables) and introduce stabilising negative feedback into the unstable system. One respondent whose recovery from anorexia and EDNOS had stalled before she became fully healthy bore witness to dangerous positive feedback triggered by reading fiction about eating disorders: 'I read the book a long time ago however found it made me more determined to lose weight. ...
... This phenomenon is one manifestation of a salient recurring feature in the free responses: namely feedback structures, and in particular the instability inherent in positive feedback loops, which are a primary characteristic of the eating-disorder psychopathology taken as a whole [37]. I have explored elsewhere the contribution these survey data make to our understanding of feedback relationships in reading and disordered eating [48], and these findings resonate with a growing interest in feedback-based predictive processing as a fundamental feature of human cognition [53]. Further research in this direction promises leverage on the dynamics of literary response as they directly impact on (and are impacted by) readers' physical and mental health. ...
Article
The Harry Potter universe is both widely accessible and incredibly popular, and this feature combined with its depth of narrative and genre may make it uniquely suitable to supporting mental health recovery. The current study aims to address a gap in the literature around how engagement with the Harry Potter universe, in the tradition of unguided creative bibliotherapy, may allow people to derive psychologically-relevant meanings from these narratives as part of their mental health recovery journey. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six individuals who identified as Harry Potter fans, had experienced mental health challenges, and were in recovery. Interviews were transcribed and analysed inductively to identify themes. Three superordinate themes were established that captured participants’ experiences of using Harry Potter along their mental health recovery journey: Early Engagement, Immersive World, and Connection. Although participants employed Harry Potter in creative and individual ways, best suited to their lived experience of mental health recovery, the superordinate themes pointed to several commonalities in how these fans used the series, and these reflected contemporary models of mental health recovery.
... There is, consequently, widespread testimony in the freeresponse data to the fact that textual engagement has the potential to intervene in the mind-body feedback loops that characterise the development and maintenance of eating disorders. As analysed in depth elsewhere [48], reading can both exacerbate unstable positive feedback loops (relating to mood, concentration, preoccupation with the eating disorder, and many other variables) and introduce stabilising negative feedback into the unstable system. One respondent whose recovery from anorexia and EDNOS had stalled before she became fully healthy bore witness to dangerous positive feedback triggered by reading fiction about eating disorders: 'I read the book a long time ago however found it made me more determined to lose weight. ...
... This phenomenon is one manifestation of a salient recurring feature in the free responses: namely feedback structures, and in particular the instability inherent in positive feedback loops, which are a primary characteristic of the eating-disorder psychopathology taken as a whole [37]. I have explored elsewhere the contribution these survey data make to our understanding of feedback relationships in reading and disordered eating [48], and these findings resonate with a growing interest in feedback-based predictive processing as a fundamental feature of human cognition [53]. Further research in this direction promises leverage on the dynamics of literary response as they directly impact on (and are impacted by) readers' physical and mental health. ...
Article
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Background There is growing evidence for the efficacy of self-help bibliotherapy as a treatment for eating disorders, although little understanding of how specific linguistic characteristics may enhance or constrain its effects. Meanwhile, ‘creative bibliotherapy’ (the therapeutic use of fiction, poetry, or sometimes film, rather than self-help books) is widely practised, but even more poorly understood than the self-help variety: although a range of theoretical models exist, claims of the healing power of literature are far more commonly made than tested. Methods An online survey including quantitative (forced-choice) and qualitative (free-response) items was designed and administered in collaboration with the charity Beat to investigate the connections between respondents’ reading habits and their mental health, with a focus on eating disorders, and attracted 885 respondents. Responses to two sequences of questions, exploring the differential effects of fiction about eating disorders versus respondents’ preferred genre of other fiction on the dimensions of mood, self-esteem, feelings about one’s body, and diet and exercise habits, were analysed using a 2 × 2 repeat measures factorial ANOVA design for each of the four dependent variables. Results Surprisingly, fiction about eating disorders was perceived by respondents as broadly detrimental to mood, self-esteem, feelings about their bodies, and diet and exercise habits, while respondents’ preferred genre of other fiction was experienced as beneficial to mood and broadly neutral on the other three dimensions. The free-response data added detail to these core findings, as well as suggesting numerous other possible effects and mechanisms, drawing attention to the roles of positive and negative feedback structures and of highly selective interpretive filtering, and highlighting the dangers of ‘self-triggering’: using books to deliberately exacerbate an eating disorder. Conclusions The findings directly challenge existing theoretical models of creative-bibliotherapeutic mechanisms, which tend to insist on the importance of a close match between the reader’s and the protagonist’s situations. They point the way forward for a new programme of clinical research and practice by suggesting other ways to conceive of how embodied cognitive acts of textually cued interpretation may intervene in the psychopathology of an eating disorder – for good and for ill.
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When ill, women with eating disorders have disturbances of mood and behavior and alterations of catecholamine activity. It is not known whether these alterations are cause or consequence of pathological eating behaviors. To avoid confounding effects of pathologic eating behavior, we studied women who were recovered (> 1 year, normal weight, regular menstrual cycles, no restricting eating pattern, no bingeing or purging) from anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) compared to healthy control women. Recovered AN women had significantly lower height-adjusted weight than did recovered BN women. CSF HVA (pmol/ml +/- SD), a major metabolite of dopamine, was significantly lower (p < .02) in six restricting-type AN women (131 +/- 49) compared to 19 BN women (216 +/- 73) and at a trend (p < .08) less than 13 bulimic-type AN women (209 +/- 53, p < .06) and 18 control women (202 +/- 57, p < .08). These four groups had similar values for CSF MHPG, a norepinephrine metabolite. Dopamine neuronal function has been associated with motor activity, reward, and novelty seeking. These behaviors are altered in restricting-type AN compared to other eating disorder subtypes. A trait-related disturbance of dopamine metabolism may contribute to a vulnerability to develop this sub-type of eating disorder.
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There continues to be a debate on whether addiction is best understood as a brain disease or a moral condition. This debate, which may influence both the stigma attached to addiction and access to treatment, is often motivated by the question of whether and to what extent we can justly hold addicted individuals responsible for their actions. In fact, there is substantial evidence for a disease model, but the disease model per se does not resolve the question of voluntary control. Recent research at the intersection of neuroscience and psychology suggests that addicted individuals have substantial impairments in cognitive control of behavior, but this "loss of control" is not complete or simple. Possible mechanisms and implications are briefly reviewed.
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Feedback loops have been identified in a variety of regulatory systems and organisms. While feedback loops of the same type (negative or positive) tend to have properties in common, they can play distinctively diverse roles in different regulatory systems, where they can affect virulence in a pathogenic bacterium, maturation patterns of vertebrate oocytes and transitions through cell cycle phases in eukaryotic cells. This review focuses on the properties and functions of positive feedback in biological systems, including bistability, hysteresis and activation surges.
Supersizing narrative theory: On intention, material agency and extended mind-workers. Style
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Mirror, mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem
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Smallest mimes: Defaced representation and media epistemology
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Majkut, P. (2014). Smallest mimes: Defaced representation and media epistemology. Bucharest: Zeta Books.
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