Dufour is supervised by Linda Booij, professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Eating Disorders in the Department of Psychology. Dufour conducts her research at the Eating Disorders Continuum of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal and in close collaboration with other eating-disorder programs in Canada.
“We think that biological aspects such as genes and brain processes interact with the environment and sociocultural elements. But we still don’t know exactly how that leads to eating disorders in adolescence,” she explains.
“It’s still unclear which brain changes are present before the eating disorder and which ones are caused by it.”
Dufour notes that a common misconception about disordered eating is that social media is the main culprit. However, research suggests that eating disorders may be a result of both environmental and biological factors.
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are estimated to affect between 840,000 and 1,750,000 people in Canada, according to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.
So far, few studies have been conducted on eating disorders in adolescence using neuroimaging. Dufour’s study is the largest to date on this age group.
Dufour says she hopes her research can help improve the effectiveness of psychological treatments for eating disorders.
“I hope that by having a better understanding of what goes on in the brain and what contributes to the disorders’ development, we will be better able to target our interventions,” she says.
“For example, we might be able to target our interventions toward things that we know are more at a deficit in the brain, or toward things that we know contribute to the disorder’s maintenance.”
As part of her doctoral research, Dufour is also analyzing data from a large longitudinal study in Quebec. She is investigating how different behaviours and cognitive functions in childhood are related to the development of eating-disorder symptoms in adolescence.
Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Psychology.