Body size misperception is common amongst the general public and is a core component of eating disorders and related conditions. While perennial media exposure to the "thin ideal" has been blamed for this misperception, relatively little research has examined visual adaptation as a potential mechanism. We examined the extent to which the bodies of "self" and "other" are processed by common or separate mechanisms in young women. Using a contingent adaptation paradigm, experiment 1 gave participants prolonged exposure to images both of the self and of another female that had been distorted in opposite directions (e.g., expanded other/contracted self), and assessed the aftereffects using test images both of the self and other. The directions of the resulting perceptual biases were contingent on the test stimulus, establishing at least some separation between the mechanisms encoding these body types. Experiment 2 used a cross adaptation paradigm to further investigate the extent to which these mechanisms are independent. Participants were adapted either to expanded or to contracted images of their own body or that of another female. While adaptation effects were largest when adapting and testing with the same body type, confirming the separation of mechanisms reported in experiment 1, substantial misperceptions were also demonstrated for cross adaptation conditions, demonstrating a degree of overlap in the encoding of self and other. In addition, the evidence of misperception of one's own body following exposure to "thin" and to "fat" others demonstrates the viability of visual adaptation as a model of body image disturbance both for those who underestimate and those who overestimate their own size.
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- body image
- eating disorders
- neural representation