Objective: To reconcile empirical inconsistencies in the relationship between emotionally-negative families and daughters' abnormal eating, we hypothesized a critical moderating variable: daughters' vulnerability to emotion contagion.
Method: A nonclinical sample of undergraduate females (N = 92) was recruited via an advertisement and completed self-report measures validated for assessing: families' expressive negativity, daughters' susceptibility to emotion contagion, dietary restraint, and disinhibition, eating attitudes, and several control variables (interpersonal orientation, alexithymia, and the big five personality traits: extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, and agreeableness).
Results: All variables and interactions were entered as predictors in a multistep multiple regression equation. Only an emotion contagion by family expressivity interaction term significantly predicted unhealthy eating attitudes (β = .29, p = .02) and dietary restraint (β = .27, p = .03). Negatively expressive families significantly induced unhealthy eating and restraint but only among young women susceptible to emotion contagion (ps < .05).
Discussion: Young women susceptible to emotion contagion may be at increased risk for eating disorders.