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If you think you’re ugly, it may not be a problem of emotional wellness and self-confidence, but rather your physical wellbeing. This is according to researchers from UCLA, who have found that individuals whose mental health is affected by body dysmorphic disorder – a disabling but often misunderstood psychiatric condition in which people perceive themselves to be disfigured and ugly, even though they look normal to others – have abnormalities in the underlying connections in their brains.
Led by Dr Jamie Feusner, a UCLA associate professor of psychiatry, the researchers reported in the May edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology that individuals with BDD essentially have global “bad wiring” in their brains, meaning that the network-wiring patterns across their brain as a whole is abnormal. This result indicates that these patterns in the brain may relate to impaired information processing.
Feusner commented, ‘We found a strong correlation between low efficiency of connections across the whole brain and the severity of BDD. The less efficient patients’ brain connections, the worse the symptoms, particularly for compulsive behaviours, such as checking mirrors.’ When you have BDD, you tend to fixate on minute details, such as a single spot on your face, rather than viewing yourself as a whole. You often can’t lead a normal life as you’re so distressed about your appearance, and BDD sufferers can even commit suicide as a result of the condition.
Feusner, who also directs the Adult Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program and the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Research Programme at UCLA, explained, ‘How [BDD Patients’] brain regions are connected in order to communicate about what they see and how they feel is disturbed. Their brains seem to be fine-tuned to be very sensitive to process minute details, but this pattern may not allow their brains to be well-synchronized across regions with different functions.
He continued, ‘This could affect how they perceive their physical appearance and may also result in them getting caught up in the details of other thoughts and cognitive processes.’ Feusner also noted that the research advances scientists’ understanding of BDD, providing evidence that the “hard wiring” of patients’ brain networks is abnormal. ‘These abnormal brain networks could relate to how they perceive, feel and behave,’ he said. ‘This is significant because it could possibly lead to us being able to identify early on if someone is predisposed to developing this problem.’