Obesity actually causes people to see the world differently, study shows

February 16, 2016 by Bob Yirka report
This is an image of a weight scale. Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena

(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers, one with Purdue University, the other two with Colorado State University, has found via field experiments that overweight people tend to see things as farther away than average weight people. In their study published in the journal Acta Psychologica, Mila Sugovic, Philip Turk and Jessica Witt describe several experiments they conducted to learn more about perceptual differences that occur as people gain weight and what they learned by doing so.

In the first experiment, customers visiting Walmart were asked to volunteer for a project—each was asked to state how far away a cone was that had been placed on a sidewalk outside—the actual distance was 25 meters away—but the researchers found that tended to think it was farther away than it really was—overshooting by up to five meters. Interestingly, those who were slimmer than average tended to underestimate, thinking it was up to 15 meters closer than it actually was.

The researchers suggest these results show that as people gain , they begin to perceive the world differently—as an example, they note that a person hiking with a heavy backpack tends to start seeing hills as farther away, higher and more difficult to reach than a person without a pack.

In another experiment, the researchers asked volunteers to play putt-putt golf under an illusion that made the hole look smaller, which of course caused them to play worse, even though the hole size never actually changed. In a similar experiment, volunteers were asked to play tennis with different sized rackets and reported that the ball seemed to move slower as the rackets got bigger. And in another experiment, volunteers were asked to rotate a line on a card to show how steep they thought a nearby hill was—those that were overweight tended to show a much steeper gradient.

Such experiments show, the researchers suggest, that perception changes are a fixed result of weight gain—people can't stop it from happening even if they want to do so. That means, they suggest, that weight loss programs need to take such perceptions into consideration if they are to work, such as having participants wear goggles that make things look closer, or avoiding walking where there are hills.

Explore further: Study: Golfers can improve their putt with a different look

More information: Perceived distance and obesity: It's what you weigh, not what you think, Acta Psychologica, Volume 165, March 2016, Pages 1–8, DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2016.01.012

Abstract
Action abilities are constrained by physical body size and characteristics, which, according to the action-specific account of perception, should influence perceived space. We examined whether physical body size or beliefs about body size affect distance perception by taking advantage of naturally-occurring dissociations typical in people who are obese but believe themselves to weigh less. Normal weight, overweight, and obese individuals made verbal distance estimates. We also collected measures of beliefs about body size and measures of physical body size. Individuals who weighed more than others estimated distances to be farther. Furthermore, physical body weight influenced perceived distance but beliefs about body size did not. The results illustrate that whereas perception is influenced by physical characteristics, it is not influenced by beliefs. The results also have implications for perception as a contributing factor for lifestyle choices: people who weigh more than others may choose to perform less physically demanding actions not as a result of how they perceive their bodies, but as a result of how they perceive the environment.

Related Stories

Study: Golfers can improve their putt with a different look

April 3, 2012
Golfers looking to improve their putting may find an advantage in visualizing the hole as bigger, according to a new study from Purdue University.

Believing you are overweight may lead to further weight gain

August 6, 2015
People who recognise they are overweight or obese are more likely to put on weight than those who are unaware that they may be heavier than doctors would advise, according to research by the University of Liverpool.

Young adults needlessly anxious about their ideal weight

February 3, 2016
According to a new study at the University of Helsinki, having a personal "ideal weight" does not aid weight loss. Most young women and nearly half of young men aged 24 would like to weigh less than they do. A decade later, ...

Majority of people—including health professionals—struggle to identify obesity

November 11, 2014
The majority of people - including healthcare professionals - are unable to visually identify whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight or obese according to research by psychologists at the University of Liverpool.

Recommended for you

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

Infants know what we like best, study finds

July 27, 2017
Behind the chubby cheeks and bright eyes of babies as young as 8 months lies the smoothly whirring mind of a social statistician, logging our every move and making odds on what a person is most likely to do next, suggests ...

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

phoenix7
not rated yet Feb 17, 2016
What about the difference between someone that is heavy because they're a bodybuuolde like the rock, compared to someone that is heavy because they're fat. And what about body height?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.