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Size Matters: investigating the link between affective and perceptual body representations using multisensory illusions and brain imaging (Size Matters)
Start date: Jul 1, 2013, End date: Jun 30, 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The perceptual flexibility of the human body representation has been well documented, demonstrating that changes to our body can be quickly adapted to by the brain. However, how this affects our emotional feeling towards our body is yet to be explored. Negative feelings towards our body can have catastrophic consequences for our mental and physical health being associated with disordered eating behaviour such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. The proposed research aims to investigate affective consequences of perceptual bodily illusions, creating illusions of thinner and fatter body shapes, whilst measuring changes in body satisfaction. Such changes will also be examined in relation to visual perspective of the body. Recent evidence has suggested that viewing the body from a first person perspective (how we normally view ourselves) and a third person perspective (how we normally view other people) involve independent neural networks. In a series of behavioural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments, we aim to reveal a direct causal link between the perceptual body image, expected to be constructed by active multisensory areas in the posterior parietal and premotor cortices, and the affective body image, hypothesised to be supported by activation in insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. Crucially, this interplay between the perceived body and the emotionally felt body is predicted to depend on the visual perspective, so that changes in perceived body size cause much greater modulation of body satisfaction when the body is viewed from the first person compared to the third person perspective. Understanding how perception of the body relates to the emotional experience of the body, and how this is modulated by visual perspective, can have far reaching implications for clinical populations that involve disrupted body representations, most notably for disorders of eating behaviour.
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