Magazine article Psychology Today

Body Blindness

Magazine article Psychology Today

Body Blindness

Article excerpt

(MIND YOUR BODY)

How to get past a distorted self-image. By Katherine Schreiber

CAN'T TEAR yourself away from cataloging your imperfections in front of the mirror? The source of your problem may be a visual processing error in the brain.

Pathological preoccupation with perceived defects in one's appearance is known as body dysmorphic disorder.

Sufferers often lose the ability to see the entire self that the supposedly defective parts fit into. (Someone with a normal-sized nose can become convinced that it dwarfs the whole face.) Many undergo repeated cosmetic surgeries and struggle to form meaningful personal relationships. The risk of suicide is high.

Until recently, blindness to one's true facial or body configuration was thought to be psychological. But UCLA psychiatrist Jamie D. Feusner has recently found that the tell-tale fixation on details might stem from a problem with big-picture perception.

While looking at blurred photos of their own faces from inside an fMRI machine, those with BDD showed far less activity in brain regions responsible for fitting visual details into composite forms than did healthy controls, Feusner observed.

The reduced responsiveness to the visual gestalt extends beyond faces to inanimate objects. A follow-up study revealed a similar dip in activity in the same brain areas when BDD sufferers viewed images of houses.

"The brains of people with body dysmorphic disorder don't seem to process the holistic picture well," says Feusner, who believes the perceptual error underlies the distorted selfimage that defines BDD. …

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