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How Anorexia Alters Depth Perception

The disorder can impact how a sufferer perceives the physical world around them, a Dutch study finds.

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Anorexia can make a door seem too small to
squeeze through. Photo via

By Victoria Kim

06/13/13

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Anorexia nervosa not only affects how sufferers perceive their own bodies, but how they perceive the physical world around them on an unconscious level, a new study finds. Researchers at Utrecht University in The Netherlands conducted an experiment in to how "body perception abnormalities" in people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa can affect ingrained, unconscious actions. They observed 39 participants (19 diagnosed with anorexia and 20 without) who were asked to walk around a room that contained "door-like openings" of various sizes. The participants—distracted by a memory exercise—were unaware that the actual experiment was to observe how they approached the openings. Participants without anorexia rotated themselves to fit through the smaller doorways, when their width got down to just 25% wider than their shoulders. But participants diagnosed with anorexia were found to walk through the doorways as if their bodies were much larger than actual size, beginning to rotate their bodies to fit when the doorways were 40% wider than their shoulders. This experiment is the first to verify that even ingrained motor behavior is affected by altered perceptions of size in individuals with anorexia. Said researchers: "The disturbed experience of body size in anorexia nervosa is more pervasive than previously assumed."

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