Escape theory proposes that aversive self-awareness (ASA) arises when individuals are aware of their failure to achieve their own goals. This state is hypothesized to lead to cognitive narrowing, a state during which the individual pushes meaningful thought out of awareness, inducing a state of reduced affect and present-focused awareness of immediate surroundings. Cognitive narrowing has been shown to lead to disinhibited behavior, such as loss of control (LOC) eating. This study was the first to test escape theory of LOC eating using ecological momentary assessment to measure ASA and cognitive narrowing as they naturalistically occur. Results showed that ASA predicted cognitive narrowing when assessments occurred in close temporal succession, but not when assessments were spaced further apart, suggesting the relationship between ASA and cognitive narrowing is very momentary. Cognitive narrowing also predicted LOC eating. However, the relationship between ASA and LOC eating was not fully mediated by cognitive narrowing, suggesting that cognitive narrowing is not necessary for LOC eating to occur. Furthermore, cognitive narrowing was not associated with an emotionally blunted experience. Instead, happiness and anxiety decreased, guilt and sadness increased, and anger and stress remained unchanged. After LOC eating, mood did not improve, but ASA decreased. Overall, results suggest that LOC eating occurs in response to ASA and cognitive narrowing, but the state of cognitive narrowing is not necessary to engage in LOC eating. These results highlight escape theory's unique construct of ASA as an important predictor and intervention target in future studies, but reject the theory's principle tenet that cognitive narrowing is a necessary state for LOC eating to occur.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Sciences
Psychology; Clinical Psychology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Stevenson, Brittany, "Loss of Control Eating as an Escape From Aversive Self-Awareness" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6881.
Restricted to the UCF community until June 2025; it will then be open access.