Obsessing over your appearance could mean your brain is wired abnormally
LOS ANGELES – Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a disabling but often misunderstood psychiatric condition in which people perceive themselves to be disfigured and ugly, even though they look normal to others. New research at UCLA shows these individuals have abnormalities in the underlying connections in their brains. Dr. Jamie Feusner, the study's senior author and a UCLA associate professor of psychiatry, said individuals with BDD have, in essence, global "bad wiring" in their brains — that is, there are abnormal network-wiring patterns across the brain as a whole. And in line with earlier UCLA research showing that people with BDD process visual information abnormally, the study discovered abnormal connections between regions of the brain involved in visual and emotional processing. The findings suggest these patterns in the brain may relate to impaired information processing. "We found a strong correlation between low efficiency of connections across the whole brain and the severity of BDD," Feusner said. "The less efficient patients' brain connections, the worse the symptoms, particularly for compulsive behaviors such, as checking mirrors." People suffering from BDD tend to fixate on minute details, such as a single blemish on their face or body, rather than viewing themselves in their entirety. They become so distressed with their appearance that they often can't lead normal lives, are fearful of leaving their homes and occasionally even commit suicide. Patients frequently have to be hospitalized. BDD affects approximately 2 percent of the population and is more prevalent than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Despite its prevalence and severity, scientists know relatively little about the neurobiology of BDD. "How their brain regions are connected in order to communicate about what they see and how they feel is disturbed," said Feusner, who also directs the Adult Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program and the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Research Program at UCLA. "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 said. "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."