Difficulties in cognitive flexibility-the ability to adapt effectively to changes in the environment and/or changing task demands-have been reported in anorexia nervosa (AN). However, findings are inconsistent across studies and it remains unclear which specific aspects of cognitive flexibility patients with AN may struggle with. This systematic review aimed to synthesise existing research on cognitive flexibility in AN and clarify differences between patients with acute AN, patients who are weight-restored and patients who are fully recovered from AN. Electronic databases were searched through to January 2020. 3,310 papers were screened and 70 papers were included in the final review. Although adults with acute AN performed worse in perceptual flexibility tasks and self-report measures compared to HCs, they did not exhibit deficits across all domains of cognitive flexibility. Adolescents with acute AN did not differ to HCs in performance on neurocognitive tasks despite self-reporting poorer cognitive flexibility. Overall, significant differences in cognitive flexibility between acute and recovered participants was not evident, though, the findings are limited by a modest number of studies. Recovered participants performed poorer than HCs in some neurocognitive measures, however, results were inconsistent across studies. These results have implications for the assessment of cognitive flexibility in AN and targeted treatment approaches.
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