Evidence for a perceptual mechanism relating body size misperception and eating disorder symptoms

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14 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: There are known and serious health risks associated with extreme body weights, including the development of eating disorders. Body size misperceptions are particularly evident in individuals with eating disorders, compared to healthy controls. The present research investigated whether serial dependence, a recently discovered bias in body size judgement, is associated with eating disorder symptomatology. We additionally examined whether this bias operates on holistic body representations or whether it works by distorting specific visual features.

METHODS: A correlational analysis was used to examine the association between serial dependence and eating disorder symptomatology. We used a within-subjects experimental design to investigate the holistic nature of this misperception. Participants were 63 young women, who judged the size of upright and inverted female body images using a visual analogue scale and then completed the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire (EDE-Q) to assess eating disorder symptoms.

RESULTS: Our findings provide the first evidence of an association between serial dependence and eating disorder symptoms, with significant and positive correlations between body size misperception owing to serial dependence and EDE-Q scores, when controlling for Body Mass Index. Furthermore, we reveal that serial dependence is consistent with distortion of local visual features.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings are discussed in relation to the broader theories of central coherence, cognitive inflexibility, and multisensory integration difficulties, and as providing a candidate mechanism for body size misperception in an eating disorder population.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level 1, experimental study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-621
Number of pages7
JournalEating and Weight Disorders: studies on anorexia, bulimia and obesity
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


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