People with Body Dysmorphia May Actually See Things Differently

A new study suggests variance in the brain activity of people suffering from body dysmorphia. According to Dr. Jamie Feusner, a UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry, people with body image issues have decreased brain activity when they view holistic images. “No study until this one has investigated the brain’s activity for visually processing objects in people with BDD,” said Feusner, director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Intensive Treatment Program at UCLA. “This is an important step to figuring out what’s going wrong in the brains of people with body dysmorphia so we can develop treatments to change their perceptions of themselves.”

Body dysmorphia is found in nearly two percent of people and more prevalent in those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The study, which involved 14 people with body dysmorphia and 14 control subjects, involved the use of a brain scans in order to determine the brain activity of the subjects while they viewed pictures of houses that were altered and houses that were unaltered. Those with body dysmorphia displayed significantly lower amounts of brain activity in the region of the brain that process visual details. The more severe a person’s symptoms of body dysmorphia, the less activity they displayed.

“The study suggests that body dysmorphia patients have general abnormalities in visual processing,” Feusner said. “But we haven’t yet determined whether abnormal visual processing contributes as a cause to developing body dysmorphia or is the effect of having body dysmorphia. Many psychological researchers have long believed that people with body-image problems such as eating disorders only have distorted thoughts about their appearance, rather than having problems in the visual cortex, which precedes conscious thought. This study, along with our previous ones, shows that people with body dysmorphia have imbalances in the way they see details versus the big picture when viewing themselves, others and even inanimate objects.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bonnie

    Bonnie

    May 30th, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    I had never really given much thought to the fact that something in the brain may cause them to actually view things differently. I just always think that they have a skewed vision of themselves but not other things.

  • pam d

    pam d

    May 31st, 2011 at 5:11 AM

    such a condition could lead to a lot of drawbacks for those people..it puts them at a disadvantage no doubt but may also affect their self-esteem..it’s almost as if their visual processor is betraying them.

  • Laura

    Laura

    June 1st, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Helps me see EDs differently

  • Luke F. Myers

    Luke F. Myers

    June 5th, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    I’ve heard this theory a few times in the past, but every time I do I think it’s completely ridiculous.

    I’m going to stick to my guns and say that body image doesn’t cause you to hallucinate. Because that’s what that report says to me they are suggesting.

  • Jolanda Prince

    Jolanda Prince

    June 5th, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    @Luke- It’s not a hallucination. It’s more that your very opinion of yourself is heavily skewed away from the norm in an unnatural fashion.

    If you read the article, you’ll see that it says their perspective just doesn’t get processed by the brain properly.

    This is saying it could be their visual cortex that’s at fault.

  • Terence A. Halbert

    Terence A. Halbert

    June 9th, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    Surely there’s more to this than just seeing things wrongly isn’t there? We don’t all care so deeply about our figure, and I feel we can tell from our own moods and physical feelings if we’re unhealthy.

    As a point of interest: if they see themselves as ugly, wouldn’t they see everyone else the same way?

  • Lesley Estes

    Lesley Estes

    June 11th, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    I’m leaning towards distorted thoughts. Girls who are anorexic can think that they’re fat, even though others can quite literally yell that they are not. It amazes me how some can be so easily influenced by ones who mean nothing to them telling them they look fab, yet their true friends yelling at them that they have a problem just lands on deaf ears.

    Of course the admirers are often anorexic themselves.

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