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Abnormalities of object visual processing in body dysmorphic disorder

  • J. D. Feusner (a1), E. Hembacher (a2), H. Moller (a1) and T. D. Moody (a3)

Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) may have perceptual distortions for their appearance. Previous studies suggest imbalances in detailed relative to configural/holistic visual processing when viewing faces. No study has investigated the neural correlates of processing non-symptom-related stimuli. The objective of this study was to determine whether individuals with BDD have abnormal patterns of brain activation when viewing non-face/non-body object stimuli.


Fourteen medication-free participants with DSM-IV BDD and 14 healthy controls participated. We performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants matched photographs of houses that were unaltered, contained only high spatial frequency (HSF, high detail) information or only low spatial frequency (LSF, low detail) information. The primary outcome was group differences in blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes.


The BDD group showed lower activity in the parahippocampal gyrus, lingual gyrus and precuneus for LSF images. There were greater activations in medial prefrontal regions for HSF images, although no significant differences when compared to a low-level baseline. Greater symptom severity was associated with lower activity in the dorsal occipital cortex and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex for normal spatial frequency (NSF) and HSF images.


Individuals with BDD have abnormal brain activation patterns when viewing objects. Hypoactivity in visual association areas for configural and holistic (low detail) elements and abnormal allocation of prefrontal systems for details are consistent with a model of imbalances in global versus local processing. This may occur not only for appearance but also for general stimuli unrelated to their symptoms.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: J. D. Feusner, M.D., 300 UCLA Medical Plaza, Suite 2345, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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