Can virtual reality body-swapping technique improve body image?

November 4, 2015, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc
Credit: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers

In a new study using a body-swapping illusion, women shown images of themselves in virtual reality with a skinny belly estimated their body size more accurately compared to their estimates of various body parts made before the virtual body was substituted for their own. Virtual reality body-swapping may be able to change a person's "allocentric memory" of the body and be useful in treating individuals suffering from eating or weight disorders who overestimate their body size, according to an article published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

In "Virtual Reality Body-Swapping: A Tool for Modifying the Allocentric Memory of the Body," Silvia Serino, Giuseppe Riva, and coauthors from IRCCS Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, and University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy, University of Pavia, Italy, and Utrecht University, The Netherlands, report that after the women in the study embodied the with a skinny belly they updated their allocentric body, which is defined by a person's estimates of the width and circumference of various body parts.

"This research provides a valuable first step in understanding of body image distortion and disturbance in those with eating disorders and obesity," says Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCB, BCN, Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California and Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Brussels, Belgium. "Exploring the potential of this Virtual Reality approach in a clinical population will be an important next step."

Explore further: Can virtual reality therapy help alleviate chronic pain?

More information: The article is available for free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website until December 4, 2015.

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