Investigators using virtual reality to determine gender differences in body dissatisfaction and gaze pattern behaviors found that women paid more attention to weight-related areas of interest (W-AOIs), while men paid more attention to non-weight-related areas of interest (NW-AOIs), according to study results published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

The study set out to establish attentional bias in patients with eating disorders toward specific weight- or non-weight-related body parts using virtual reality-based embodiment technique and eye-gaze tracking assessment. Patients included 45 women (23 with high body dissatisfaction [BD] and 22 with low BD) and 40 men (20 with high BD and 20 with low BD). Patients were embodied in three virtual avatars: the first based on the patient’s actual body measurements; the second, a 40% larger version of the patient; and the third, a repetition of the first figure. Eye gaze was used to track the number and duration of fixations on W-AOIs and NW-AOIs for all three avatars.

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Bruno Porras-Garcia, PhD candidate, of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology, University of Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues found a statistically significant interaction between gender and time of total fixation and number of fixations. Women were more fixated on W-AOIs; men were more fixated on NW-AOIs, with an attentional bias for muscular-related AOIs. Of note, there was no significant effect of BD on the results.

The investigators noted a number of study limitations, including the failure to control for BMI or drive for thinness and the fact that high BD levels in this study corresponded to medium to high BD levels in nonclinical samples in the Spanish population.

“Clinical interventions aiming to modify BD may be able to draw on our findings in order to design specific gender-based interventions that aim to retrain dysfunctional body-related attention in different ways in women and men with [eating disorders],” the investigators wrote.

“Future psychological [eating disorders] assessments and treatments could take advantage of the possibilities of [virtual reality] while real-time [attentional bias] is objectively measured,” investigators concluded.

Reference

Porras-Garcia B, Ferrer-Garcia M, Ghita A, et al. The influence of gender and body dissatisfaction on body-related attentional bias: an eye-tracking and virtual reality study [published online July 13, 2019]. Int J Eat Disord. doi:10.1002/eat.23136