Is body dysmorphic disorder biological?
People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) see themselves as being unattractive, ugly, or disfigured. Often people suffering from BDD will opt to have plastic surgery or facial reconstruction to deal with the way they perceive themselves to appear. Additionally, people with BDD often are diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and / or develop eating disorders in order to deal with their negative self-image. BDD tends to run in families, which would suggest that the disorder is genetic rather than being caused by media imposed images of perfection alone; while family history suggests that there are biological origins for the disorder a recent study from UCLA confirms that idea.
According to the study, people with BDD don’t seem to have any physical brain abnormalities but do appear to have a visual processing malfunction that accounts for the disease. According to Dr. Jamie Feusner, professor of psychiatry at UCLA Semel Institute, “”Our discovery suggests that the BDD brain’s hardware is fine, but there’s a glitch in the operating software that prevents patients from seeing themselves as others do.” The study, which focused on 12 participants with BDD and 12 controls, found that patients with BDD tend to analyze images more with their left brains, the analytically orientated side of the brain, than controls. Here is an excerpt of an article from News-Medical.net that discusses the details of the study:
For the first time, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to reveal how the patients’ brains processed visual input. The UCLA team outfitted 12 BDD patients with special goggles that enabled them to view digital photos of various faces as they underwent a brain scan.
Each volunteer viewed three types of images. The first type was an untouched photo. The second type was a photo altered to eliminate facial details that appear frequently, such as freckles, wrinkles and scars. This “low frequency” technique blurred the final image.
The third type of image essentially subtracted the blurred second image from the untouched photo. This “high frequency” technique resulted in a finely detailed line drawing.
Feusner’s team compared the BDD patients’ responses to 12 control subjects matched by age, gender, education and handedness. What the scientists observed surprised them.
“We saw a clear difference in how the right and left sides of the brain worked in people with BDD versus those without the disorder,” noted Feusner.
BDD patients more often used their brain’s left side — the analytic side attuned to complex detail — even when processing the less intricate, low-frequency images. In contrast, the left sides of the control subjects’ brains activated only to interpret the more detailed high-frequency information. Their brains processed the untouched and low-frequency images on the right side, which is geared toward seeing things in their entirety.
“We don’t know why BDD patients analyze all faces as if they are high frequency,” said Feusner. “The findings suggest that BDD brains are programmed to extract details — or fill them in where they don’t exist. It’s possible they are thinking of their own face even when they are looking at others.”