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Biol Psychol. 2018 May;135:136-148. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.03.007. Epub 2018 Mar 17.

Attention biases in preoccupation with body image: An ERP study of the role of social comparison and automaticity when processing body size.

Author information

1
Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu, Estonia. Electronic address: helen.uusberg@ut.ee.
2
Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu, Estonia.
3
Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu, Estonia; Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, 94305 CA, USA.
4
Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu, Estonia. Electronic address: kirsti.akkermann@ut.ee.

Abstract

Appearance-related attention biases are thought to contribute to body image disturbances. We investigated how preoccupation with body image is associated with attention biases to body size, focusing on the role of social comparison processes and automaticity. Thirty-six women varying on self-reported preoccupation compared their actual body size to size-modified images of either themselves or a figure-matched peer. Amplification of earlier (N170, P2) and later (P3, LPP) ERP components recorded under low vs. high concurrent working memory load were analyzed. Women with high preoccupation exhibited an earlier bias to larger bodies of both self and peer. During later processing stages, they exhibited a stronger bias to enlarged as well as reduced self-images and a lack of sensitivity to size-modifications of the peer-image. Working memory load did not affect these biases systematically. Current findings suggest that preoccupation with body image involves an earlier attention bias to weight increase cues and later over-engagement with own figure.

KEYWORDS:

Attention bias; Automaticity; Body image; Body size; ERP; LPP; N170; P2; P3; Preoccupation; Self-images; Social comparison

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