Nonlinear relationships between anxiety and visual processing of own and others' faces in body dysmorphic disorder

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA.
Psychiatry research 11/2012; 204(2-3). DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2012.09.003
Source: PubMed


Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) often experience anxiety, as well as perceptual distortions of appearance. Anxiety has previously been found to impact visual processing. This study therefore tested the relationship between anxiety and visual processing of faces in BDD. Medication-free participants with BDD (N=17) and healthy controls (N=16) viewed photographs of their face and a familiar face during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Blood-oxygen-level dependent signal changes in regions involved in anxiety (amygdala) and detailed visual processing (ventral visual stream-VVS) were regressed on anxiety scores. Significant linear relationships between activity in the amygdala and VVS were found in both healthy controls and individuals with BDD. There was a trend of a quadratic relationship between anxiety and activity in the right VVS and a linear relationship between anxiety and activity in the left VVS for the BDD sample, and this was stronger for own-face stimuli versus familiar-face. Results suggest that anxiety symptoms in BDD may be associated with activity in systems responsible for detailed visual processing. This may have clinical implications related to heightened perceptual distortions associated with anxiety.

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    • "The amygdala is also connected to both the ventral and dorsal visual streams; through these pathways, top-down signals may be carried to the visual cortex to enhance visual processing for emotionally salient stimuli (Furl et al., 2013), which may shift balances in global and local processing. In individuals with BDD, Bohon et al. (2012) found associations between brain activity in amygdala and in the ventral visual stream, as well as an association between anxiety and ventral visual stream activity, suggesting that arousal may increase processing of details in this population. "
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