People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD - a severe mental illness characterized by debilitating misperceptions that one appears disfigured and ugly - process visual information abnormally, even when looking at inanimate objects, a new UCLA study has revealed.
First author Jamie Feusner, a UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry, and colleagues found that patients with the disorder have less brain activity when processing holistic visual elements that provide the "big picture," regardless of whether that picture is a face or an object.
The study compared 14 BDD patients, both men and women, with 14 healthy controls.
Researchers used a type of brain scan called functional MRI (fMRI) to scan subjects while they viewed digital photographs of houses that were either unaltered or altered in ways to parse out different elements of visual processing.
One altered set of images included very fine details, such as the shingles on the roof. The other altered images had very little detail and just showed things "holistically," such as the general shape of the house and the doors and windows.
The researchers found that the BDD patients had abnormal brain activation patterns when viewing pictures of the less-detailed houses: The regions of their brains that process these visual elements showed less activation than the healthy controls.
In addition, the more severe their BDD symptoms, the lower the brain activity in the areas responsible for processing the image holistically.
"The study suggests that BDD patients have general abnormalities in visual processing," said Feusner.
The research appeared in the current online edition of the journal Psychological Medicine.