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Visual Information Processing of Faces in Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Visual Information Processing of Faces in Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a severe psychiatric condition that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under the new category called obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. As explained by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, body dysmorphic disorder is “characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.” Little is known about its pathophysiology, although early research provides evidence of abnormal visual processing. Visual Processing “pertains to the ability to perceive, analyze, synthesize, and think with visual patterns and involves the ability to store and recall visual representations via visual imagery and visual memory.” Although BDD is a common condition that affects nearly 1 in 50 people, equaling an estimated 5 to 10 million Americans, it has largely gone underrecognized and understudied. 

Clinical Research

There seems to be a clear link between visual information processing of faces and body dysmorphic disorder. Data from a relevant study produced findings that suggest abnormalities in visual processing and frontostriatal systems in BDD. The study concludes by asserting “Hypoactivation in the occipital cortex for low spatial frequency faces may indicate either primary visual system abnormalities for configural face elements or top-down modulation of visual processing.” Another study concluded that subjects with BDD demonstrate fundamental differences in visually processing others’ faces and differences in visual processing that extend beyond distortions of their own appearance. Additional research is required to gain a clearer understanding of the neurobiology of body dysmorphic disorder and the pathophysiology underlying its clinical symptoms.

Subjects with BDD demonstrate fundamental differences from

controls in visually processing others’ faces. The predominance of left-sided

activity for low spatial frequency and normal faces suggests detail encoding

and analysis rather than holistic processing, a pattern evident in controls only

for high spatial frequency faces. These abnormalities may be associated with

apparent perceptual distortions in patients with BDD. The fact that these

findings occurred while subjects viewed others’ faces suggests differences in

visual processing beyond distortions of their own appear

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