Visual attention mediates the relationship between body satisfaction and susceptibility to the body size adaptation effect

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


Body size misperception–the belief that one is larger or smaller than reality–affects a large and growing segment of the population. Recently, studies have shown that exposure to extreme body stimuli results in a shift in the point of subjective normality, suggesting that visual adaptation may be a mechanism by which body size misperception occurs. Yet, despite being exposed to a similar set of bodies, some individuals within a given geographical area will develop body size misperception and others will not. The reason for these individual difference is currently unknown. One possible explanation stems from the observation that women with lower levels of body satisfaction have been found to pay more attention to images of thin bodies. However, while attention has been shown to enhance visual adaptation effects in low (e.g. rotational and linear motion) and high level stimuli (e.g., facial gender), it is not known whether this effect exists in visual adaptation to body size. Here, we test the hypothesis that there is an indirect effect of body satisfaction on the direction and magnitude of the body fat adaptation effect, mediated via visual attention (i.e., selectively attending to images of thin over fat bodies or vice versa). Significant mediation effects were found in both men and women, suggesting that observers’ level of body satisfaction may influence selective visual attention to thin or fat bodies, which in turn influences the magnitude and direction of visual adaptation to body size. This may provide a potential mechanism by which some individuals develop body size misperception–a risk factor for eating disorders, compulsive exercise behaviour and steroid abuse–while others do not.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0189855
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018

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Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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