Body image disturbance (BID) affects quality of life even in the absence of clinically diagnosable eating pathology, and numerous studies have shown its crucial role in the emergence and maintenance of eating disorders. This study aimed at exploring attitudinal and perceptual components of BID using a novel virtual reality (VR)-based paradigm. A community sample of women (N = 27) recreated in VR their perceived body in both an allocentric (third-person view) and egocentric (first-person view) perspective. Specifically, women were able to choose between a wide range of three-dimensional bodies spanning body mass index 12.5-42.5 kg/m2. Attitudinal indexes of BID (body dissatisfaction, body uneasiness, and body image avoidance) were assessed through questionnaires. Attitudinal components predicted the perceptual BID only in the allocentric perspective. Specifically, overestimation was predicted by body image avoidance, while underestimation was predicted by body uneasiness. Furthermore, a common predictor of underestimation and overestimation was body dissatisfaction. In line with the allocentric lock hypothesis, the current results seem to confirm the presence of two different mechanisms underlying BID: one related to real-time perception-driven inputs (egocentric frame) and one related to abstract knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes related to a person's body (allocentric frame). These findings contribute to a better understanding of the nature and mechanisms underlying BID and provide additional evidence about the suitability of using VR for exploring and assessing body image-related components and disturbances.
Keywords: allocentric; body image; body image disturbance; body size estimation; virtual reality.