Reduced body-image disturbance by body-image interventions is associated with neural-response changes in visual and social processing regions: a preliminary study

Front Psychiatry. 2024 Mar 6:15:1337776. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2024.1337776. eCollection 2024.


Introduction: Body-image disturbance is a major factor in the development of eating disorders, especially among young women. There are two main components: perceptual disturbance, characterized by a discrepancy between perceived and actual body size, and affective disturbance, characterized by a discrepancy between perceived and ideal body size. Interventions targeting body-image disturbance ask individuals to describe their own body without using negative expressions when either viewing it in a mirror or imagining it. Despite the importance of reducing body-image disturbance, its neural mechanisms remain unclear. Here we investigated the changes in neural responses before and after an intervention. We hypothesized that neural responses correlated with the degree of body-image disturbance would also be related to its reduction, i.e., a reduction in perceptual and affective disturbances would be related to changes in attentional and socio-cognitive processing, respectively.

Methods: Twenty-eight young adult women without known psychiatric disorders underwent a single 40-min intervention. Participants completed tasks before and after the intervention, in which they estimated their perceived and ideal body sizes using distorted silhouette images to measure body-image disturbance. We analyzed the behavioral and neural responses of participants during the tasks.

Results: The intervention did not significantly reduce body-image disturbance. Analysis of individual differences showed distinct changes in neural responses for each type of disturbance. A decrease in perceptual disturbance was associated with bodily visuospatial processing: increased activation in the left superior parietal lobule, bilateral occipital gyri, and right cuneus. Reduced affective disturbance was associated with socio-cognitive processing; decreased activation in the right temporoparietal junction, and increased functional connectivity between the left extrastriate body area and the right precuneus.

Discussion: We identified distinct neural mechanisms (bodily visuospatial and socio-cognitive processing) associated with the reduction in each component of body-image disturbance. Our results imply that different neural mechanisms are related to reduced perceptual disturbance and the expression thereof, whereas similar neural mechanisms are related to the reduction and expression of affective disturbance. Considering the small sample size of this study, our results should be regarded as preliminary.

Keywords: body image; fMRI; intervention; mental imagery; mirror exposure.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This study was supported by KAKENHI (16H01873 and 22H04855 [MS]), a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (JP19J21589 to YH) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Subsidy for Interdisciplinary Study and Research concerning COVID-19 from the Mitsubishi Foundation (MS), and the Division for Interdisciplinary Advanced Research and Education Selective Examination, Tohoku University (YH).