Understanding Body Size Misperceptions with Dr. Ian Stephen

The online world is one of the favorite places for people to self-actualiaze through pictures. Usually, people post pictures in their social media of their ‘ideal’ bodies, either thin or muscular. It causes us to question whether or not continuous exposure to those kinds of pictures online is healthy. How will it affect people’s perception of their bodies?

We invited Dr. Ian Stephen, a lecturer and researcher from Macquarie University in Australia in a Knowledge Sharing Session (11/13) on “Perceptual Mechanisms Behind Body Size Misperception”. In this event, held in Room A-203, Dr. Ian Stephen presented results of his research on body size mispercception. He explained that a person who experiences body size misperception believes that his/her body is thinner or bigger than what it actually is.

Based on the result of his research, we know that when a person sees another person’s body shape it can alter and affect his/her perception of what ‘the ideal body’ is. Exposure to pictures or selfies that emphasize the body size of the person(s) in the picture can affect a person viewing those pictures’ point of subjective normality (PSN). Individuals shown pictures of bigger, fuller people for 2 minutes experienced an increase of PSN, or in other words, place a thicker body as an ideal standard, so that person will perceive his/her own body as thinner. On the other hand, if a person is shown a slimmer body, PSN will decrease and the ideal standard is a thinner body, hence that person will perceive themselves as fatter. According to Dr. Ian Stephen, the effect of misperception from those 2 minute exposures can last for another few minutes, and it is possible for it to persist (although with lesser strength) for the next few days.

At the end of the session, Dr. Ian Stephen also explain possible implications of his research findings to patients with anorexia nervosa. One form of therapy for patients with this disorder is group therapy, but based on his research findings another way to handle it better is through individual therapy. When patients with anorexia nervosa see another patient that is thinner than them, then the other patients might perceive themselves as ‘fatter’, because the ideal is to be even thinner. However, further research is still needed to confirm this assumption. (CPMH/Alifah)