Separating two components of body image in anorexia nervosa using fMRI

H. M. Mohr, J. Zimmermann, C. Rder, C. Lenz, G. Overbeck, R. Grabhorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Background Body image distortion is a key symptom of anorexia nervosa. In behavioral research two components of body image have been defined: attitudes towards the body and body size experience. Neuroimaging studies concerning own body image distortions in anorexia nervosa have revealed an inconsistent pattern of results and are constrained by the fact that no direct distinction between the different parts of body image has been made.Method The present study therefore set out to investigate the neural correlates of two parts of the own body image using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): satisfaction rating and size estimation for distorted own body photographs in patients with anorexia nervosa and controls.Results Anorectic patients were less satisfied with their current body shape than controls. Patients further demonstrated stronger activation of the insula and lateral prefrontal cortex during the satisfaction rating of thin self-images. This indicates a stronger emotional involvement when patients are presented with distorted images close to their own ideal body size. Patients also overestimated their own body size. We were able to show complex differential modulations in activation of the precuneus during body size estimation in control and anorectic subjects. It could be speculated that a deficit in the retrieval of a multimodal coded body schema in precuneus/posterior parietal cortex is related to body size overestimation. Conclusions We were able to find specific behavioral responses and neural activation patterns for two parts of body image in anorexia nervosa and healthy controls. Thus, the present results underline the importance of developing research and therapeutic strategies that target the two different aspects of body image separately.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1519-1529
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • body image
  • eating disorders
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging


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