A German study found evidence that both binge eaters (BE) and nonbinge eaters (NBE) have a bias towards ugly body parts, which might explain overweight individuals’ body dissatisfaction. More importantly they found that BE look at ugly body parts even longer and more often than NBE.
In a study published in a recent issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics by a group of German investigators, a new characterization of women with binge eating disorder emerges.
Body dissatisfaction is markedly increased in individuals with binge eating disorder (BED). Because body dissatisfaction is considerably higher in binge eaters (BE) compared to overweight nonbinge eaters (NBE), the Authors of this study hypothesized that BE would be characterized by increased visual attention to the most ugly body parts compared to NBE.
The female participants were 26 BE and 18 overweight NBE. Even though study inclusion required control participants to have a BMI>25, the BMI was higher in BE than NBE. The participants were told that they were going to watch photographic depictions (omitted face) of themselves and of a control person, while the size of their pupils was going to be measured.
After calibration of the eye tracking device, they started watching the pictures. The pictures were arranged in 2 blocks; each block contained 4 different body perspectives (front/left/right/back) of the self picture and 4 of a BMI matched control picture. Each perspective was presented twice on the computer for 8 s each, once on the left and once on the right side of the screen. After the experimental procedure, the participants had to identify the ugliest and most beautiful body part of the self/control picture. Eye movements were measured by means of a 240-Hz Eye-Link Eyetracker equipped with View software.
The mechanism is based on determination of the center of the pupil and the corneal reflection by which eye movements are assessed. Both duration and frequency for the ugliest and most beautiful body part of the self picture and of the control picture were considered for the analyses.
The investigators found evidence that both BE and NBE have a bias towards ugly body parts, which might explain overweight individuals’ body dissatisfaction. More importantly they found that BE look at ugly body parts even longer and more often than NBE. This effect is more consistent for self pictures compared to control pictures.
As gaze duration and frequency for self pictures in block 1 were moderated by the interaction of group X BMI and by BMI in block 2, future studies should further test the role weight has in BE with regard to selective attention to beautiful and ugly body parts. On the background of the ANCOVA results, it is possible that these findings are more related to obesity than BED.
To fully understand the influence of BMI and fully exclude its role as a possible confounder, replication with highly overweight and normal weight healthy controls would be necessary. It also remains unclear whether the bias found is a cause of BE’s (or obese individuals’) higher body dissatisfaction or whether BE’s (or obese individuals’) higher body dissatisfaction leads to the increased bias towards ugly body parts.
Further analyses concerning attention allocation to body parts should also consider the degree of psychopathology of BED in addition to the diagnostic criterion of BED and BMI as causal variables.