Devon Heath

Supervisor: Dana Hayward

Project: What's in a face? Social cognition differences in women with anorexia nervosa


Medicine Hat, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science with Honors in Psychology

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

I feel incredibly privileged to work with a clinical population. Each woman has a unique journey and has been touched by mental illness in a different way. The primary objective of this study was to identify social-cognitive difficulties in disordered eating. I hope that our results can translate into clinical research, and eventually evidence-based interventions to improve outcomes for women suffering with eating disorders.

How has your studentship helped you towards your career aspirations?

Believe it or not, I transferred to the University of Alberta because of the research WCHRI does in women and children’s health! I recently completed my undergraduate honors degree in psychology and my goal is to become a clinician-scientist. By being an alumnus of the Summer Studentship Program, I hope that I will have more opportunities within WCHRI as I pursue further education and my academic career. Additionally, the summer studentship allowed me to apply research and statistical methodologies to data I collected myself. I learned how to handle and analyze eye tracking data, which was an entirely new experience for me.

Lay abstract:

Statistics from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre state that 2-3% of Canadians will at some point in their lifetime meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder (ED), which includes conditions such as anorexia nervosa (AN). Further, those with EDs have a reduced life expectancy of 20-25 years. Moreover, women are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with ED. Recent research suggests that women with EDs may have difficulties with social cognition, such as attending to and remembering social information. If it is difficult to pay attention to people, or remember them, imagine how much harder it would be to navigate every day social exchanges, interpret body language and social rules, or even build meaningful relationships. Emerging research suggests that even women who no longer meet the criteria to be diagnosed with an ED continue to show lingering social-cognitive deficits. For this project we looked at different social-cognitive measures in women who have a current or history of an eating disorder. The larger goal is to collect data that could be applied to evidence-based treatments, in order to improve the lives of women.