Eating Disorders testlab


Eating disorders are syndromes characterized by severe disturbances in eating and excessive concern about body shape or weight.  There is no easy treatment for eating disorders and the consequences of unsuccessful treatment are substantial. For example, individuals with anorexia suffer from the highest overall mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders (Agras et al., 2004) and a 57 fold greater risk of suicide than their peers without eating disorders (Keel et al., 2003).

Body dissatisfaction is defined as a negative subjective evaluation of the weight and shape of one’s own body.  Body dissatisfaction predicts the onset, severity, and treatment outcomes of eating disorders.  Thus, advances in our understanding of body dissatisfaction should produce improvements in theories and treatments of eating disorders.

A core component of body dissatisfaction is appearance-based social comparisons.  That is, an observer becomes dissatisfied with her body when she unfavorably compares her own body with other people’s bodies.  Rebecca Glauert and Gill Rhodes recently reported that all women are biased to spontaneously direct their attention to the bodies of thin women (Glauert et al., 2010 Int J Eat Disord).  In preliminary follow up studies, we’ve found that this tendency also depends on the level of the observer’s body dissatisfaction.  At least for women with high levels of body dissatisfaction, the more dissatisfied a woman is with her own body, the more she attends to the bodies of thin women.  This attentional bias is not restricted to women as we’ve also found that the more dissatisfied a man is with his body, the more he attends to the bodies of thin men.  Women don’t appear to show this bias when they look at the bodies of men and men don’t seem to show it when they look at women (Joseph et al., 2011).  We’re currently expanding this research program with the goal of developing better theories and treatments of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.


Joseph, C. & Shiffrar, M. (2011, May). Do Observers' Negative Self-Evaluations of Their Own Bodies Mediate Their Visual Attention Towards Other Bodies? Vision Science Society, Naples, FL. download pdf