Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fear of getting fat seen in healthy women's brain scans

Date:
April 14, 2010
Source:
Brigham Young University
Summary:
When healthy women see an image of an overweight stranger, it lights up a part of their brain that processes identity and self-reflection. These "sub-clinical" signs of body image discomfort may put women at greater risk for eating and mood disorders.

A group of women in a new study seemed unlikely to have body image issues -- at least their responses on a tried-and-true psychological screening presented no red flags.

Related Articles


That assessment changed when Brigham Young University researchers used MRI technology to observe what happened in the brain when people viewed images of complete strangers.

If the stranger happened to be overweight and female, it surprisingly activated in women's brains an area that processes identity and self-reflection. Men did not show signs of any self-reflection in similar situations.

"These women have no history of eating disorders and project an attitude that they don't care about body image," said Mark Allen, a BYU neuroscientist. "Yet under the surface is an anxiety about getting fat and the centrality of body image to self."

Allen makes his report with grad student Tyler Owens and BYU psychology professor Diane Spangler in the May issue of the psychological journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Spangler and Allen collaborate on a long-term project to improve treatment of eating disorders by tracking progress with brain imaging. When anorexic and bulimic women view an overweight stranger, the brain's self-reflection center -- known as the medial prefrontal cortex -- lights up in ways that suggest extreme unhappiness and in some cases, self-loathing.

The motivation for this new study was to establish a point of reference among a control group of women who scored in the healthy range on eating disorder diagnostic tests. Surprisingly, even this control group exhibited what Allen calls "sub-clinical" issues with body image.

Seeing that, Allen and Owens ran the experiments with a group of men for comparison.

"Although these women's brain activity doesn't look like full-blown eating disorders, they are much closer to it than men are," Allen said.

Spangler says women are bombarded with messages that perpetuate the thin ideal, and the barrage changes how they view themselves.

"Many women learn that bodily appearance and thinness constitute what is important about them, and their brain responding reflects that," Spangler said. "I think it is an unfortunate and false idea to learn about oneself and does put one at greater risk for eating and mood disorders."

"It's like the plant in my office," she continued."It has the potential to grow in any direction, but actually only grows in the direction of the window -- the direction that receives the most reinforcement."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brigham Young University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Owens, T.E., Allen, M.D., Spangler, D.L. An fMRI study of self-reflection about body image: Sex differences. Personality and Individual Differences, 2010; 48 (7): 849 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.012

Cite This Page:

Brigham Young University. "Fear of getting fat seen in healthy women's brain scans." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413151913.htm>.
Brigham Young University. (2010, April 14). Fear of getting fat seen in healthy women's brain scans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413151913.htm
Brigham Young University. "Fear of getting fat seen in healthy women's brain scans." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413151913.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AP (Mar. 25, 2015) While distracted driving is not a new problem for teens, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it&apos;s much more serious than previously thought. (March 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) European researchers say our smartphone use offers scientists an ideal testing ground for human brain plasticity. Dr Ako Ghosh&apos;s team discovered that the brains and thumbs of smartphone users interact differently from those who use old-fashioned handsets. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) According to a new study by the Alzheimer&apos;s Association, more than half of those who have the degenerative brain disease aren&apos;t told by their doctors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) Researchers found those who napped for 45 minutes to an hour before being tested on information recalled it five times better than those who didn&apos;t. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins