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Selective visual attention for body parts

during body image assessment

using a digital method

Emanuel Mian a Walter Gerbino a Silvia Ubaldi b and Andrea Serino b

Department of Psychology and BRAIN Centre for Neuroscience, University of Trieste, Italy
Department of Psychology "Centro Studi e Ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive", University of Bologna

INTRODUCTION: Body image is a broad concept that refers to

perception, cognition, attitude and behaviour toward one’s own
It represents the way in whch the personal bodily appearance is
perceived (Cash & Pruzinsky, 2004).
In the present study, we combine a digital method for body image
assessement, i.e. Body Image Revealer (Mian & Gerbino, 2009)
and eye movements registration (Eye Tracker, ASL), as an index
of visual attention.
The aim of this pilot study is to explore if observers focus on
specific body parts when they evaluate and adjust previously
distorted images of their body.

METHOD: Frontal pictures of 9 female informed volunteers (mean

age (mean=18,11 ± 1,45 years)were taken at a standard 2.5 m
distance. Subjects’ weight (mean=53,63 ± 3,30 Kg) and height
(mean=162 ± 4,53 cm) were determined. Only subjects with a
normal Body Mass Index (i.e. between 18,5 and 24,9; mean=20,46
± 1,48 Kg/m2) were included.
Validated questionnaires for the assessment of eating and body
image disturbances were also administered: subjects with scores
at questionnaires indicating a possible eating disorder were
Each participant received 18 trials divided in 4 tasks using the
Body Image Revealer: they were presented with a distorted (in
different trials either under- and over-weight simulation) picture of
their body and were requested to adjust (i.e. enlarge or reduce) the
image until it fits with: a) how they see they are (cognitive task); b)
how they feel they are (affective task); c) how they would like to
appear (optative task); d) how they think others see them
(metacognitive task). Eye movements were recorded and fixation
time for different body parts (thigh, abdomen, thorax, arms, head)
of the shown picture was measured.

RESULTS: Compared to previous studies using the Body Image

Revealer in normal controls (E. Mian, Dalle Grave, Vanderlinden,
Pieters, & Probst, 2006; E. Mian & Gerbino, 2008; E. Mian &
Gerbino, 2009),the present subjects showed no distortion in body
image perception (overestimation of body size) and normal levels
of body image dissatisfaction (Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-
Moore, 1985). In details, mean scores were: in the cognitive task=
2,7 % +/- 7,6; in the affective task= 7.5 % +/-10.7; in the optative
task= , -9.4% +/-15.6; in the metacognitive task=8.3 % +/- 10.9.
Eye movements data show that female subjects spent more time
looking their thighs when estimating the size of the whole image
of their body in comparison to all other body parts, suggesting that
the thigh is a critical landmark for body perception in young

CONCLUSION: Further research is planned in the near future in

order to confirm the present results. The sample size will be
enlarged and male subjects will be recruited in order to evaluate
gender differences. This set of data will be used as a normative
sample to be compared with patients suffering from anorexia
nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

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