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Psychological screenings using MRI technology showed negative body-image activity in the brain scans of healthy women, according to a publication in the May issue of Personality Individual Differences.
Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers observed the reactions in the brains of women who were shown images of complete strangers varying in weight. If a female participant viewed an image of an overweight woman, the self-reflection and identity processing area in the brain became active. Male participants who saw the same photographs showed no signs of brain activity involving self-reflection.
The purpose of the study was to improve eating disorder treatments by using brain imaging to track the progress in the brain. When disorder sufferers see images of an overweight individual, activity occurs in the brain's self-reflection center, which leads to emotions such as unhappiness or self-loathing. The study found that while brain activity in women doesn't appear to be connected to eating disorders, the body-reflection activity in the brain occurs much more than in men.
Diane Spangler, a BYU psychology professor, stated that "women are bombarded with messages that perpetuate the thin ideal, and the barrage changes how they view themselves." She added that "many women learn that bodily appearance and thinness constitute what is important about them, and their brain responding [to the images] reflects that."
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