Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

People with body-image disorders process 'big picture' visual information abnormally

Date:
May 30, 2011
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD -- a severe mental illness characterized by debilitating misperceptions that they appear disfigured and ugly -- process visual information abnormally, even when looking at inanimate objects. The findings are an important step in developing treatments to change their self-perceptions.

Pictures used in the study. Researchers found that patients suffering from body dysmorphic disorder have less brain activity when processing holistic visual elements that provide the "big picture," regardless of whether that picture is a face or an object.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Los Angeles

People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD -- a severe mental illness characterized by debilitating misperceptions that one appears disfigured and ugly -- process visual information abnormally, even when looking at inanimate objects, according to a new UCLA study.

First author Dr. Jamie Feusner, a UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry, and colleagues found that patients with the disorder have less brain activity when processing holistic visual elements that provide the "big picture," regardless of whether that picture is a face or an object.

The research appears in the current online edition of the journal Psychological Medicine.

"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 BDD so we can develop treatments to change their perceptions of themselves."

People with BDD tend to fixate on minute details, such as a single blemish or a slight crook to the nose, rather than viewing their face as a whole. The impact of the disorder can be debilitating. Sufferers think obsessively about their appearance and engage in repetitive, time-consuming behaviors, such as checking their appearance in the mirror. Many are too embarrassed to leave the house, some have repeated and unnecessary plastic surgeries, and still others can become suicidal. BDD affects an estimated 2 percent of the population and is thought to be especially common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The study compared 14 BDD patients, both men and women, with 14 healthy controls. Researchers used a type of brain scan called functional MRI (fMRI) to scan subjects while they viewed digital photographs of houses that were either unaltered or altered in ways to parse out different elements of visual processing. One altered set of images included very fine details, such as the shingles on the roof. The other altered images had very little detail and just showed things "holistically," such as the general shape of the house and the doors and windows.

The researchers found that the BDD patients had abnormal brain activation patterns when viewing pictures of the less-detailed houses: The regions of their brains that process these visual elements showed less activation than the healthy controls. In addition, the more severe their BDD symptoms, the lower the brain activity in the areas responsible for processing the image holistically.

"The study suggests that BDD 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 BDD or is the effect of having BDD. So it's the chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon.

"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 BDD have imbalances in the way they see details versus the big picture when viewing themselves, others and even inanimate objects."

Thirty percent of people with BDD also suffer from eating disorders, which are also linked to having a distorted self-image. Feusner is now enrolling anorexia nervosa patients to study whether they have abnormalities in the way they process visual information, to compare them with BDD patients. He plans to use this information to develop treatments to help people reconfigure the way they perceive themselves.

Other authors of the study were Hayley Moller and Teena Moody of UCLA, and Emily Hembacher of the University of California, Davis. Funding was provided by the National Institute for Mental Health. The authors report no conflict of interest.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. The original article was written by Mark Wheeler. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. D. Feusner, E. Hembacher, H. Moller, T. D. Moody. Abnormalities of object visual processing in body dysmorphic disorder. Psychological Medicine, 2011; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291711000572

Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "People with body-image disorders process 'big picture' visual information abnormally." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526141509.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2011, May 30). People with body-image disorders process 'big picture' visual information abnormally. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526141509.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "People with body-image disorders process 'big picture' visual information abnormally." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526141509.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed an app to fight jet lag by adjusting your body's light intake. 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:
from the past week

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