Muscle and fat aftereffects and the role of gender: implications for body image disturbance

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Body image disturbance – a cause of distress amongst the general population and those diagnosed with various disorders – is often attributed to the media’s unrealistic depiction of ideal bodies. These ideals are strongly gendered, leading to pronounced fat concern amongst females, and a male preoccupation with muscularity. Recent research suggests that visual aftereffects may be fundamental to the misperception of body fat and muscle mass – the perceptual component of body image disturbance. This study sought to establish the influence of gender on these body aftereffects. Male and female observers were randomly assigned to one of four adaptation conditions (low-fat, high-fat, low-muscle, and high-muscle bodies) and were asked to adjust the apparent fat and muscle levels of male and female bodies to make them appear as ‘normal’ as possible both before adaptation and after adaptation. While neither the gender of observers nor of body stimuli had a direct effect, aftereffect magnitude was significantly larger when observers viewed own-gender (compared with other-gender) stimuli. This effect, which may be due to attentional factors, could have implications for the development of body image disturbance, given the preponderance of idealized own-gender bodies in media marketed to male and female consumers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)742-761
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date27 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • aftereffects
  • body image
  • body size and shape misperception
  • gender
  • visual adaptation


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