If I were apply this study, called “How Brain Cells Deal with Mathematic Rules,” to eating disorders… it would be titled, “How Brain Cells Deal with Eating Disorder Rules.” :
Intelligent behavior requires strategic processing of numbers and abstract quantity information in accordance with internally maintained goals. For instance, we typically adopt a “less than” strategy when shopping for a product to pay the smallest amount of money. When searching for a job, on the other hand, our plan of action is “greater than”, and we strive to earn the largest sum of money. In such pragmatic situations, our decisions on quantities are guided by mathematical rules applied to them.
The monkeys learned the quantitative “greater than/less than”-rule and were able to choose the smaller or greater set size relative to the sample numerosity, independently of the absolute numerosity of the displays. While the animals were performing this task, neurons recorded in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe exhibited interesting activity. Irrespective of the absolute magnitude of the dot sets, the brain cells exclusively represented the mathematical rule at hand. Approximately one half of these neurons were only active whenever the animal followed the “greater than”-rule, whereas the other half preferred the “less than”-rule.
“This new study provides valuable insight into the neurobiological foundations of highly abstract thinking that is necessary for mathematical operations. “First of all we want to understand how neurons process mathematical operations” Andreas Nieder explains. “At the same time, our investigations of the number sense are meaningful for assessing the very complex thinking processes that are necessary, for instance, when dealing with numbers.” It is the cerebral cortex at the frontal pole of the brain that constitutes the brain’s highest cognitive control center. This region of the brain also gives rise to mental activities that build personality.”
I think that the “greater than/less than”-rule could definitely apply to eating disorders. You’re looking for the fewest calories when grocery shopping or at the gym calculating which exercise burns the most calories (these are pretty stereotypical examples, but stay with me). In many ways, common eating disorder rules do involve a kind of math.
I’m stepping out of my realm of knowledge now… but I wonder if these rules could be applied to anxiety. What about choosing the activity or food that causes the least amount of anxiety? That’s math-like… I’m assessing the situation and choosing the smaller action relative to possible anxiety. Am I stretching this?
Also, I think it’s an interesting connection that the cerebral cortex impacts mathematical processing AND personality. There is definitely a relationship between how immersed one is in his/her disorder (which could mean more rigid adherence to self-imposed ED rules) and presence (or absence) of his/her personality. I know there are lots of other biological explanations for this (I think every eating disorder blog is required to mention the Minnesota Starvation Experiment in at least one post)… but I think the possible connection is fascinating.