Self-perception in anorexia nervosa: When the body becomes an object

Scarpina Federica, Bastoni Ilaria, Villa Valentina, Mendolicchio Leonardo, Castelnuovo Gianluca, Mauro Alessandro, Anna Sedda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Women with anorexia nervosa (AN) act as if they have a larger body, as evidenced in obstacle avoidance tasks, where an allocentric perspective is adopted. This alteration emerges not only when they perform, but also when they imagine movements. However, no previous study has investigated own body centered tasks. As such, in this study we aim at documenting if women with AN show an altered behaviour also when the task requires a first-person perspective.

We explored the performance of eleven woman affected by AN compared to eighteen matched controls, in two motor imagery tasks based on a self-frame of reference, the Hand Laterality Task and the Mental Motor Chronometry Task. Moreover, two control tasks relative to visual imagery were administered.

In the Hand Laterality Task, affected participants did not adopt a motor strategy to judge hands laterality (i.e. no biomechanical constraints effect). Crucially, they also showed an altered behavior in the control task. Similarly, they did not show the expected isochrony in the Mental Motor Chronometry Task, when actions pertained the left (but not the right) hand, in absence of any difference in the control task.

Our findings reveal altered imagery processes in AN. Specifically, affected participants adopt a third-person, rather than a first-person perspective, even when the task requires to imagine their own body in an internal frame of reference. In other words, participants with AN objectify body stimuli. Different mechanisms (i.e., checking behaviour; mirror self-reflection; altered multisensory integration) can explain such an altered imagery in AN.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108158
Early online date14 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2022


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Body in action
  • Mental imagery
  • Motor imagery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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