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Body image is formed by the expectations of our brain

Posted June 28, 2018

Human mind is actually quite funny. It is so complex and so efficient, yet so easy to trick. Scientists from UCL have just found that sound and motion can change perceptions about the body size. For example, dropping a ball can make people feel taller, because it introduces a mismatch between the predicted and actual outcome of an action.

You should always seek to better yourself, but don’t forget that your body image is not formed just by your look in the mirror. Image credit: Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada via Wikimedia

Our brain takes visual cues from our surroundings to interpret how tall we actually are. For example, if you drop a ball and watch it fall, you are subconsciously predicting when the ball will hit the ground. If this time is delayed, we appear taller for ourselves, because our brain thinks the ball was falling for longer than it should have. These findings may eventually be useful in treating people with poor proprioception – people with this condition find it difficult to position their body parts accurately. Quite often people with Parkinson’s have poor proprioception, but the condition can onset after stroke or brain injury as well.

People form the image about their body in various different ways – it is not just about seeing and feeling. A big part of our body image is formed in our heads, which explains why people with certain conditions and diseases struggle to accept the reality of their body. Scientists hope that researches like this could help creating sound-based technology to support novel therapies for such conditions, but why sound is so important?

Participants of the study were blindfolded and then had to drop a ball. The actual sound was masked and then a fake one was played back – sometimes it coincided with the real time of the ball hitting the ground and sometimes the bump came much later or much earlier. Scientists were surprised to see that as the perceived height of the ball drop increased, so did the perception of the participants about their actual height.

It is easy to imagine that someday therapies will be developed, involving sound treatment to alter person’s perception of his body. But the benefits of this study don’t stop there. Dr Norimichi Kitagawa, co-author of the study, said: “This is not only valuable for clinical applications but could also inform the development of technologies for motion controlled games where players take on a larger character on screen”.

Body image is a huge subject these days. People are trying to promote body positivity while not forgetting to remind people that it is most important to stay healthy. You should like your image in the mirror, but you should also seek for a healthy lifestyle.


Source: UCL

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