Illusory changes in body size modulate body satisfaction in a way that is related to non-clinical eating disorder psychopathology

Catherine Preston, H Henrik Ehrsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historically, body size overestimation has been linked to abnormal levels of body dissatisfaction found in eating disorders. However, recently this relationship has been called into question. Indeed, despite a link between how we perceive and how we feel about our body seeming intuitive, until now lack of an experimental method to manipulate body size has meant that a causal link, even in healthy participants, has remained elusive. Recent developments in body perception research demonstrate that the perceptual experience of the body can be readily manipulated using multisensory illusions. The current study exploits such illusions to modulate perceived body size in an attempt to influence body satisfaction. Participants were presented with stereoscopic video images of slimmer and wider mannequin bodies viewed through head-mounted displays from first person perspective. Illusory ownership was induced by synchronously stroking the seen mannequin body with the unseen real body. Pre and post-illusion affective and perceptual measures captured changes in perceived body size and body satisfaction. Illusory ownership of a slimmer body resulted in participants perceiving their actual body as slimmer and giving higher ratings of body satisfaction demonstrating a direct link between perceptual and affective body representations. Change in body satisfaction following illusory ownership of a wider body, however, was related to degree of (non-clinical) eating disorder psychopathology, which can be linked to fluctuating body representations found in clinical samples. The results suggest that body perception is linked to body satisfaction and may be of importance for eating disorder symptomology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere85773
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2014


  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Size
  • Eating Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illusions
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Psychopathology
  • Young Adult

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