Self-Control Gone Awry: The Cognitive Neuroscience Behind Bulimia Nervosa

Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Self-Control Gone Awry: The Cognitive Neuroscience Behind Bulimia Nervosa

Every day, our brains bring together information from our bodies and environments to control our eating behavior. In turn, eating, or not eating, influences our brains' self-control circuitry. Extremes in the control of eating behavior, as well as other non-food-related behaviors, characterize individuals with bulimia nervosa. Dr. Berner will discuss how self-control goes awry in bulimia nervosa; describe how these disturbances could promote symptoms like binge eating, purging, and dietary restriction; and review how disruptions in self-control circuitry may help us predict clinical outcome and develop new treatments.

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Presented by 
Laura A. Berner, Ph.D.
Laura A. Berner, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Principal investigator, Center for Computational Psychiatry / Center of Excellence in Eating and Weight Disorders

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

2020 Young Investigator Grant


Laura Berner is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is a principal investigator and core faculty member in the Mount Sinai Center for Computational Psychiatry and the Mount Sinai Center of Excellence in Eating and Weight Disorders. She graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and minors in Neuroscience and French. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Drexel University, where her neuroimaging training was supported by an NIMH Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31). She completed her clinical internship at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research and the VA San Diego Healthcare System. Her subsequent post-doctoral training in neuroimaging at UCSD was funded by an NIMH Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32).

Dr. Berner’s research seeks to understand why people engage in extreme eating behaviors. Specifically, her work is focused on identifying neurobiological mechanisms that underlie between- and within-person variability in cognitive control, and linking these mechanisms to maladaptive eating. To this end, her research leverages a multi-level approach, integrating functional and anatomical brain imaging with computational modeling approaches, neurocognitive and neuroeconomic tasks, neuroendocrine assays, and self-report and laboratory-based symptom measures. Her overarching goals are to build new explanatory models of symptoms, identify predictors of outcome, and translate research findings to novel interventions and guidance for clinical decision-making. She is co-chair of the international ENIGMA Consortium’s Eating Disorders working group, and her work has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Brain and Behavior Foundation, the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation, the American Psychological Association, and the Academy for Eating Disorders.

Dr. Berner’s ongoing projects examine how changes in motivational states may abnormally influence control-related decision making in bulimia nervosa. Understanding these mechanisms is critical for the development of novel interventions for eating disorders and co-occurring conditions characterized by altered impulse control (e.g., substance use).

Moderated by
Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D.
Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., serves as the President & CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the largest private funder of mental health research grants. Dr. Borenstein developed the Emmy-nominated public television program “Healthy Minds,” and serves as host and executive producer of the series. The program, broadcast nationwide, is available online, and focuses on topics in psychiatry in order to educate the public, reduce stigma and offer a message of hope. Dr. Borenstein served as Editor-in-Chief of Psychiatric News, the newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association from 2012 - 2023.

Dr. Borenstein is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and serves as the Chair of the Section of Psychiatry at the Academy. He also has served as the President of the New York State Psychiatric Association. Dr. Borenstein earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard and his medical degree at New York University.