Binge eating is a serious behavior problem exhibited by individuals diagnosed with binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. Binge eating is thought to be maintained by automatic negative reinforcement in the form of relief from negative emotional responding. Current treatments produce only moderate abstinence, perhaps because they do not attempt to alter the functional consequences of the behavior. Although extinction has been thought impossible with behaviors maintained by automatic negative reinforcement, this study evaluated the application of extinction with binge eating. Four women who reported engaging in binge eating at least twice per week participated. Participants listened to an audio tape recording of the covert verbal behavior associated with their negative emotional responding during the binge to prevent alleviation of the negative emotional responding, thus eliminating the reinforcer in an attempt to reduce the behavior. The procedure effectively reduced frequency of the binges when correctly implemented. Implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.
- Automatic negative reinforcement
- Binge eating
- Functional assessment