Why people suffer poor self-image

The condition is a severe mental illness characterised by processing visual information abnormally, even when looking at inanimate objects, which is known as body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, says a new study by University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Jamie Feusner, UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry and colleagues, found that BDD patients have less brain activity when processing visual elements that provide the “big picture,” regardless of whether that picture is a face or an object, the Psychological Medicine journal reports.

“No study until this one has investigated the brain’s activity for visually processing objects in people with BDD,” said Feusner, director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Intensive Treatment Programme  at UCLA.

“This is an important step to figuring out what’s going wrong in the brains of people with BDD so we can develop treatments to change their perceptions of themselves,” added Feusner, according to an UCLA statement.

People with BDD tend to fixate on minute details, such as a single blemish or a slight crook to the nose, rather than viewing their face as a whole. The impact of the disorder can be debilitating.

Sufferers think obsessively about their appearance and engage in repetitive, time-consuming behaviour, such as checking their appearance in the mirror. Many are too embarrassed to leave the house, some have repeated and unnecessary plastic surgeries, and still others can become suicidal.

BDD affects an estimated two percent of the population and is thought to be especially common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The study compared a group of BDD patients, both men and women, with healthy controls.

Researchers used a type of brain scan called functional MRI (fMRI) to scan subjects while they viewed digital photographs of houses that were either unaltered or altered in ways to parse out different elements of visual processing.

Researchers found that the BDD patients had abnormal brain activation patterns when viewing pictures of the less-detailed houses. “The study suggests that BDD patients have general abnormalities in visual processing,” Feusner said.

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