Eating disorders and body image perception: Can the distorted body image perception of individuals at risk for developing an eating disorder affect the way they estimate the body image of others?
PublisherΠανεπιστήμιο Κύπρου, Σχολή Κοινωνικών Επιστημών και Επιστημών Αγωγής / University of Cyprus, Faculty of Social Sciences and Education
Place of publicationCyprus
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Background and Aims Dissatisfaction with body image is a very common concern, mainly among females across different age groups especially in Western cultures. While a large number of studies suggest that body image dissatisfaction might be linked to distorted body perceptions and experimental studies reported discrepancies between individual’s own body image and ideal body image, normative perceptions of human body sizes (e.g., the ability to correctly perceive human bodies in terms of normality) have not been investigated. For this reason, it is important, to assess whether individuals on the trajectory towards an eating disorder tend to overestimate only their own shape, or they present with distortions in their perception of others’ bodies or even inanimate objects, thus examining if it is an issue of distorted perception in general or an issue specific to ones’ body and weight. This study examines females at risk of developing an eating disorder to investigate whether distorted perception may be pre-existing and associated with body image dissatisfaction. This study also investigated distorted body image perceptions of individuals at high and low risk of developing an eating disorder and the role of psychological flexibility, in relation to body perception among high and low risk individuals. Method Potential participants (N=125) completed electronically a screening questionnaire. Eligible participants (N=125; 80 low-risk and 45 high-risk) were then scheduled to come to the ACThealthy laboratory for the experiment where they completed an object (vase) estimation task and then were asked to rate eighteen mixed male and female body figures (nine male, nine female) based on the Stunkard Figure Rating Scale (Stunkard et.al.,1983). Subsequently, they also rated their own figure against a series of figures (from very thin to very fat). At the end, they identified the object seen at the beginning from an array of different 5 vases which varied in size. Results Overall, the findings of the present study support that there are no differences in the perception of own body estimation between individuals at high risk of developing an ED and those at low risk. Secondly, it indicates that individuals at low risk can better perceive the actual size and shape of other bodies while high-risk individuals misperceived the body shape of others. Thirdly, our results point out that both high risk and low risk individuals had an accurate perception of the shape of an object. Finally, groups differed on psychological flexibility with women at high risk for developing an eating disorders having lower psychological flexibility compared to those in the low-risk group who had higher levels of psychological flexibility. Conclusions and Recommendations Results of the present study, support the assertion that the accuracy of body image estimations is not exclusively a defining factor of eating disorders as these estimation inaccuracies are a phenomenon also found among the general population. From the present study’s findings, a set of further questions is open up. If body image distortion is not due to any perceptual deficit and body size estimation, may be influenced by other factors. Future research it would be useful to specified those factors and the extent to which each can manipulate the body perception process but also to explore other factors that may be responsible for differences between healthy individuals and patients with ED in estimating others bodies. It is proposed that developing a greater understanding of the degree and nature of body estimation accuracy in healthy and clinical populations will provide invaluable information in our understanding of body image disturbance, and so inform intervention and prevention programs in this area.