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JMIR Ment Health. 2019 Aug 25. doi: 10.2196/14115. [Epub ahead of print]

Somatomap: A novel mobile tool to assess body image perception, piloted with fashion models and non-models.

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Laureate Institute for Brain Research, 6655 S Yale Avenue, Tulsa, US.
University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, GB.
Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles, 10920 Wilshire Blvd Suite 300, Los Angeles, US.
N/A, Los Angeles, US.
Department of Neurosurgery, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, US.
Oxley College of Heath Sciences, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, US.



Distorted perception of one's body, and appearance in general, is a core feature of several psychiatric disorders including anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder, and is operative to varying degrees in non-clinical populations. Yet, body image perception is challenging to assess given its subjective nature and variety of manifestations. Currently available methods have several limitations including restricted ability to assess perception of specific body areas. To address these limitations, we created Somatomap, a mobile tool that enables individuals to visually represent their perception of body-part sizes and shapes, areas of body concerns, and record the emotional valence of concerns.


To develop and pilot test the feasibility of a novel mobile tool for assessing body image perception in two-dimensions (2D) and three-dimensions (3D).


We created a mobile 2D tool consisting of a manikin figure on which participants draw areas of body concern and indicate the nature, intensity and emotional valence of the concern. We created a mobile 3D tool consisting of an avatar on which participants select individual body parts and use sliders to manipulate their size and shape. The tool was pilot tested on 103 females: 65 professional fashion models, a group disproportionately exposed to their own visual appearance, and 38 non-models from the general population. Acceptability was assessed via a usability rating scale. To identify areas of body concern in 2D, topographical body maps were created by combining assessments across individuals. Statistical body maps of group differences in body concern were subsequently calculated using the formula for proportional z-score. To identify areas of body concern in 3D, participants' subjective estimates from the 3D avatar were compared to corresponding measurements of their actual body parts. Discrepancy scores were calculated based on the difference between the perceived and actual body parts, and evaluated using multivariate analysis of covariance.


Statistical body maps revealed different areas of body concern between models (more frequent thighs and buttocks concerns) and non-models (more frequent abdomen/waist concerns). Models were more accurate at estimating their overall body size whereas non-models tended to underestimate the size of individual body parts, showing greater discrepancy scores for bust, biceps, waist, hips, and calves but not shoulders and thighs. Models and non-models reported high ease-of-use scores (8.4 and 8.5 out of 10), and that the resulting 3D avatar closely resembled their actual body (72.7% and 75.2%).


These pilot results suggest that Somatomap is feasible to use and offers new opportunities for assessment of body image perception in mobile settings. Although further testing is needed to determine the applicability of this approach to other populations, Somatomap provides unique insight into how humans perceive and represent the visual characteristics of their body.

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