While body dysmorphic disorder is usually thought of as solely a psychological problem, new research suggests that those suffering from the disorder may also have a visual problem that prevents them from seeing not only their body, but all objects accurately.

Since people with BDD tend to fixate on minute areas, like just their nose or a pimple, instead of what they look like as a whole, UCLA researchers decided to study how they process inanimate objects with varying levels of detail. EurekaAlert reports:

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 study found that subjects with BDD had abnormal brain activity when looking at the less-detailed photos. Compared to the healthy subjects, the BDD patients had less activity in the areas of their brains that process visual elements. Those with the most severe symptoms had the lowest brain activity in the areas or the brain that consider the image as a whole.

Lead author Dr. Jamie Feusner, a UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry, says:

"The study suggests that BDD patients have general abnormalities in visual processing, 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."


Feusner says the study proves that people with the disorder have, "problems in the visual cortex, which precedes conscious thought." He's currently studying patients with anorexia to see if they to process visual information abnormally as well. Clearly BDD and anorexia are the result of many psychological and social factors, not just a vision processing problem. However, the researchers hope that by understanding the physiological element of the disorders, they can develop more effective treatments.

People With Body-Image Disorders Process 'Big Picture' Visual Information Abnormally [EurekAlert]

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