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Anorexia nervosa and body representation
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 02:26 authored by Stephen Gadsby
Research has shown that anorexia nervosa patients represent their bodies in a distorted manner, as larger than reality. This distortion is seen in three kinds of body representations: the body percept (the mental image we have of our bodies), the body schema (used for motor control and simulation) and a representation I call the tactile form (used for certain kinds of tactile perception). In this thesis I fit this evidence into a broader framework for understanding how the spatial content of the body is tracked and stored. I do so by first discussing O’Shaughnessy’s (1980) long-term body image hypothesis. This hypothesis posits a representation that tracks changes in the spatial content of the body and supplies this content to other body representations. I argue that a similar kind of body representation might exist, supplying spatial content to the body percept, body schema and tactile form. I then explain the evidence of distortion in patients’ body representations by suggesting it arises in in this long-term representation. I also discuss what role this distortion plays in maintaining the disease. I suggest that body percept and body schema distortion causes patients to have oversized experiences of their bodies. Along with socio-cultural influences, these oversized experiences help ground patients’ propositional attitudes about their own body size. These propositional attitudes, in turn, motivate harmful dieting behaviour. As such, I show that distorted body representations play an important role in maintaining the disease.