Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Multidimensional Scaling Analysis of Male Body Perception in Men with Muscle Dysmorphia: "The Adonis Complex"

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Multidimensional Scaling Analysis of Male Body Perception in Men with Muscle Dysmorphia: "The Adonis Complex"

Article excerpt

Men with muscle dysmorphia (MD) are preoccupied with the idea that their bodies are insufficiently lean or muscular. This study used multidimensional scaling analysis to explore distortions in male body perception associated with MD. Men aged 18-46 were grouped into 41 low- and 16 high-MD samples using the Muscle Dysmorphia Inventory (Rhea, Lantz, & Cornelius, 2004). Participants judged similarities among photos of 27 male bodies (including icons representing Actual and Ideal Selves) and rated the bodies on nine attribute dimensions. MDS analysis found that both low- and high-MD men used the same dimensions in organizing their perceptions of male bodies, but high-MD men displayed significantly greater distance between Actual and Ideal Selves than did low-MD men on several dimensions. AIDS is described as a useful tool for understanding the perceptual and cognitive distortions of MD that may have value in diagnosing MD, initiating therapeutic discussions, and evaluating outcomes.

Keywords: muscle dysmorphia, multidimensional scaling, male body perception, body dissatisfaction, body image


Negative body image research has focused historically on women, but now an evolving psychiatric condition known as muscle dysmorphia (MD) is being researched in men (Rohman, 2009). Men experience pressure to develop and maintain a muscular body, much as women experience pressure toward thinness. This pressure results in men feeling dissatisfied with the way their bodies appear and can even lead to body image distortion. Body dissatisfaction and body image distortion are among the defining symptoms of MD (Grieve, Truba, & Bowersox, 2009).

The ideal male body image is growing steadily more muscular. For example, Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, and Borowiecki (1999) found that each generation of action figures (e.g., GI Joe, Iron Man, Batman) is consistently more muscular than their predecessors. Many of these figures display the physiques of advanced bodybuilders and some display levels of muscularity far exceeding the outer limits of actual human attainment. Boys as young as six years of age experience pressure toward a more muscular physique, and 95 percent of American males report that they would prefer to be more muscular (Murray et al., 2012).


MD was referred to originally as "reverse anorexia," a term that was introduced in 1993 by Pope, Katz, and Hudson and later reached public awareness through the publication of The Adonis Complex by Pope, Phillips, and Olivardia (2000). The term reverse anorexia was chosen because of its similarities to anorexia nervosa (AN), including: (a) the presence of both perceptual and affective symptoms, (b) preoccupation with appearance and experiencing extreme distress and anxiety associated with these preoccupations, (c) wearing of oversized clothing to conceal the body, and (d) participating in compulsive behaviors, including strictly monitored food intake and excessive exercise (Pope et al., 1993). Almost 20 years later, Murray et al. (2012) concluded that the research points to more similarities than differences between MD and eating disorders.

There are some fundamental differences between MD and anorexia, however. Individuals with anorexia perceive themselves as larger than they actually are and engage in pathological eating behavior and exercise to reduce body mass. In contrast, individuals with MD perceive themselves as smaller or weaker than they actually are and engage in pathological eating and exercise behaviors aimed at increasing muscularity (Olivardia, 2001). However, Maida & Armstrong (2005) noted that some people with MD are less preoccupied with being too small and thin, and are more focused on reducing body fat and maximizing muscle. Choi, Pope, and Olivardia (2002) explored the nature of MD by examining body image perceptions in male weightlifters, one group with MD and one without. …

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