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Psychiatry Res. 2011 Nov 30;190(1):115-20. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2011.04.031. Epub 2011 May 28.

Tactile body image disturbance in anorexia nervosa.

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Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz Research Institute, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Body image disturbances are central to anorexia nervosa (AN). Previous studies have focused mainly on attitudinal and visual aspects. Studies on somatosensory aspects thus far have been scarce. We therefore investigated whether AN patients and controls differed in tactile perception, and how this tactile body image related to visual body image and body dissatisfaction. The Tactile Estimation Task (TET) measured tactile body image: Two tactile stimuli were applied to forearm and abdomen, and, while blindfolded, participants estimated the distance between the two tactile stimuli between their thumb and index finger. The Distance Comparison Task (DCT) measured visual body image. Compared to controls (n=25), AN patients (n=20) not only visualized their body less accurately, but also overestimated distances between tactile stimuli on both the arm and abdomen, which might reflect a disturbance in both visual and tactile body image. High levels of body dissatisfaction were related to more severe inaccuracies in the visual mental image of the body, and overestimation of tactile distances. Our results imply that body image disturbances in AN are more widespread than previously assumed as they not only affect visual mental imagery, but also extend to disturbances in somatosensory aspects of body image.

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