UCLA Study Involving Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anorexia

By Noodlesandbeef (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Individuals that have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and anorexia nervosa (AN) have similar brain abnormalities that affect their ability to process visual information. This information was recently revealed via a research study performed by UCLA. People with anorexia have such a terrible and irrational fear of gaining weight, they starve themselves even to the point of malnutrition and possible death.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychiatric condition which is characterized by a person have an obsessive fixation with flaws they perceive within their physical appearance.

The Study Findings

UCLA researchers found people with both of these disorders had abnormal activities in the visual cortex portion of the brain during the very first time it processes “global” information or images as a whole. This is opposed to when an image is viewed in tiny detail. According to the team, it could also mean perceptual retraining may be a form of therapy that’s effective for both disorders. Perceptual training is a behavioral exercise involving the adjustment or correction of a person’s balance of global and detail processing. For both of these disorders, study participants were encouraged to place their focus on details and to process objects on a more global scale.

Previous research studies done on body dysmorphic disorder has shown the same type of abnormal activity in the visual cortex. However, the study performed by UCLA was the first to link the locations of abnormal brain activity with time periods beginning as early as one-tenth of a second after a person viewed an image. Understanding the fact timing is very important, the authors write, because it can help scientists figure out whether the issue is lower-level perception which takes place in the visual cortex of the brain or somewhere else.

The study is published in the current online edition of the journal of Psychological Medicine.

Study Findings

UCLA researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to detect regional abnormalities in visual processing and electroencephalography or EEG, to determine the timeline for how the brain is processing those signals. The results were compared for 15 people with anorexia, 15 individuals with body dysmorphic disorder and 15 healthy subjects.
People with BDD view themselves as disfigured or unattractive, even though they look completely normal to the average observer.

Those suffering from this disorder tend to focus intensely on minute details in their face or body, and the stress over appearance can lead to anxiety, depression, shame, functional impairment and hospitalization or in extreme instances, even suicide. BDD affects around 2 percent of the American population and it is more common than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, researchers know very little about the actual biology underlying the disorder.

Even though the two disorders share similar distortions about body image, and are sometimes diagnosed in the same individual, no previous studies compared the abnormalities in the visual processing information that could significantly contribute to them, nor has their neurobiology been compared.


The UCLA research team found people with AN and BDD showed less activity in the regions of the brain that convey primary global information, though the effect appeared in smaller areas in those with anorexia only.

Both of these differences were linked to electrical activity that happens within 200 milliseconds after a person views an image.

There are still many questions that must be answered with these two disorders. Having a better understanding is necessary in order to develop improved diagnostic abilities and treatment options for people suffering from anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder.

ocd self test
Do you or a loved one feel like you might have a problem with OCD? Take the Self Test now to get more information.

The information provided on brainphysics.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of brainphysics.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Click here to read our complete Terms of Use.

Susbscribe to our free newsletter for information & inspiration


BrainPhysics.com Social