December 04, 2007
People Who Imagine Body Distortions Too Analytical With Images

People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) see their bodies as more disfigured and ugly than they really are. Some BDD sufferers disfigure themselves with pointless plastic surgery. Okay, so what's with them? BDD sufferers look at images with more activity in the analytical left side of their brains.

For the first time, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to reveal how the patients’ brains processed visual input. The UCLA team outfitted 12 BDD patients with special goggles that enabled them to view digital photos of various faces as they underwent a brain scan.

Each volunteer viewed three types of images. The first type was an untouched photo. The second type was a photo altered to eliminate facial details that appear frequently, such as freckles, wrinkles and scars. This “low frequency” technique blurred the final image.

The third type of image essentially subtracted the blurred second image from the untouched photo. This “high frequency” technique resulted in a finely detailed line drawing.

Feusner’s team compared the BDD patients’ responses to 12 control subjects matched by age, gender, education and handedness. What the scientists observed surprised them.

“We saw a clear difference in how the right and left sides of the brain worked in people with BDD versus those without the disorder,” noted Feusner.

There are situations where being really analytical will get you into trouble.

BDD patients more often used their brain’s left side -- the analytic side attuned to complex detail -- even when processing the less intricate, low-frequency images. In contrast, the left sides of the control subjects’ brains activated only to interpret the more detailed high-frequency information. Their brains processed the untouched and low-frequency images on the right side, which is geared toward seeing things in their entirety.

“We don’t know why BDD patients analyze all faces as if they are high frequency,” said Feusner. “The findings suggest that BDD brains are programmed to extract details -- or fill them in where they don’t exist. It’s possible they are thinking of their own face even when they are looking at others.”

There's the capability to do analysis. Separately, there's what in your environment your mind tends to focus on to do analysis. If you focus on the wrong stimuli to process you can become pretty dysfunctional.

But will is this tendency to focus on analysis of facial and body shapes ever work to the benefit of some people? Do any painters or film makers do better jobs because their minds intensely analyze body shapes? Is the real problem with BDD the focus on one's own body rather than the bodies of other people? I suspect so.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 December 04 12:02 AM  Brain Disorders

E.S. said at December 4, 2007 4:24 AM:

LOL What happens when you always have an awsome view of how you look?

Bogen said at December 4, 2007 8:56 AM:

E.S., that does happen sometimes as well, tending to look like this.

ee 12 said at December 4, 2007 10:53 AM:

This is one of those imaging studies where the principal speculates from some data that shows little beyond differential activation and ambiguous localization compared to controls (to garner PR & Media Attention)

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