A new study utilizing fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagining) has found that anorexic women show decreased connectivity between brain regions critical to perceiving body images.
Anorexia nervosa is a devastating eating disorder characterized by distorted self-perception of body image and an irrational fear of weight gain. Those with anorexia nervosa starve themselves in order to avoid weight gain. The disorder affects more women than men, and is considered among the most deadly of all psychological disorders.
The study tested ten anorexic and fifteen healthy women. All of the women were asked to choose from a variety of silhouettes the one which mostly closely matched their own body shape. Ten control subjects who did not have their brains mapped by the fMRI matched photos of test subjects to their correct silhouette.
The choices test subjects made differed from those of the control group: healthy women estimated they were thinner than what the controls said, while anorexics perceived themselves to be fatter. When the test subjects were scanned with the MRI, all participant's brain activity were recorded while they looked at photos of bodies.
Of particular interest to researchers were the fusiform body area (FBA) and the extrastriate body area (EBA), regions shown to be critical in body perception. The connection between these two regions was weaker in women with anorexia nervosa than healthy women. Researchers found that the weaker the FBA and EBA connection, the more the subject misjudged their body type.