Experimental manipulation of visual attention affects body size adaptation but not body dissatisfaction

Ian D. Stephen*, Katie Hunter, Daniel Sturman, Jonathan Mond, Richard J. Stevenson, Kevin R. Brooks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Prolonged exposure to large/small bodies causes aftereffects in perceived body size. Outside the laboratory, individuals repeatedly exposed to small (large) bodies tend to over- (under-) estimate their size and exhibit increased (decreased) body dissatisfaction. Why, among individuals exposed to approximately equivalent distributions of body sizes, only some develop body size and shape misperception and/or body dissatisfaction is not yet fully understood. Method: We exposed 61 women to high and low adiposity bodies simultaneously, instructing half to attend to high, and half to low adiposity bodies. Results: Participants in the high adiposity attention condition's perception of “normal” body size significantly increased in adiposity, and vice versa. Discussion: This suggests that visual attention moderates body size aftereffects. Interventions encouraging visual attention to more realistic ranges of bodies may therefore reduce body misperception. No change in body dissatisfaction was found, suggesting that changes in the perceptual component (misperception) may not necessarily affect the attitudinal component (dissatisfaction) of body image distortion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-87
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number1
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • body size misperception
  • visual adaptation


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