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Anorexia May Be Caused by 'Connection Error' in Brain

Update Date: Jan 25, 2013 12:21 PM EST

When individuals with anorexia look at their reflections in the mirror, they are often convinced that they are bigger than they are. Now, a new study recently conducted by researchers from Ruhr-Universität, the University of Witten-Herdecke and the University of Osnabrück may have shed light on that body dysmorphia. According to their recent study, that distortion of their bodies may be a result of weak connections between two portions of the brain. Furthermore, the weaker the connections are, the more distorted that anorexic people view themselves.

The researchers asked 15 healthy participants and 10 participants with anorexia to view several different silhouettes and pick out the one with the most similar one to theirs. They were all were hooked up to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine; an additional10 healthy participants were not. The 10 healthy participants answered the same question by matching a photograph of a test subject with a silhouette.

The researchers found that the healthy controls perceived their bodies as being thinner than they were. On the other hand, the participants with anorexia viewed their bodies as being heavier than they were.

Meanwhile, the MRI scans gave a more complete picture. The researchers focused on two particular portions of the brain: the fusiform body area (FBA) and the extrastriate body area (EBA). Both of these regions have been found by previous studies to be important for perceiving bodies. Using the MRI scans, the neuroscientists calculated the connectivity between the two regions.

They found that the connections between the FBA and the EBA were weaker in women with anorexia nervosa than they were in healthy women. In addition, the weaker that the connections were, the fatter that the anorexic women perceived themselves to be.

"These alterations in the brain could explain why women with anorexia perceive themselves as fatter, even though they are objectively underweight," study author and Ruhr-Universität professor Boris Suchan said in a statement.

The study was published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

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