Spatial hand representation in anorexia nervosa: a controlled pilot study

Sci Rep. 2021 Oct 5;11(1):19724. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-99101-6.


Body representation distortion (BRD) is a core criterion of Anorexia Nervosa (AN), and is usually assessed subjectively, focusing on body shape. We aimed to develop a new assessment to evaluate body representation independently from socially-mediated body image, on a body part with low emotional salience (hands). In a monocentric open label pilot study, we measured hand representations based on explicit (verbal) and implicit (tactile) instructions. Participants, with eyes closed, had to point targeted locations (knuckles and nails of each finger) based on verbal instructions and tactile stimulations to evaluate body representations respectively. Ratios between hand width and finger length were compared between AN (n = 31) and controls (n = 31) and correlated with current body mass index, AN subtype and disease duration. To control that hand distortion was specific to body representation, we also assessed object representation. Hand representation's width/length ratio was significantly increased in patients with AN, whereas no difference was found in object representation. We found no correlation between hand wideness and clinical traits related to eating disorders. Our results propose that BRD is not limited to body parts with high emotional salience, strengthening the hypothesis that anorexia nervosa is associated with profound unspecific BRD.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Behavior
  • Body Dissatisfaction
  • Female
  • Hand* / anatomy & histology
  • Hand* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Young Adult