Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), in the United Kingdom, have shown that the depth of communication established between the brain and the bodily organs determines the self-perception we have of our appearance.
In this scheme, the stomach and the heart would be key: knowing more about these connections could be very useful to treat psychological pathologies in which body image plays an important role.
The scientists studied the association between body image and the brain’s processing of internal signals that occur unconsciously, related to the integration that is established between the brain and other organs, mainly with the heart and stomach.
According to the results of the study, recently published in the journal Cortex, the weaker this integration is, the more likely we are to experience negative feelings about our body image.
This self-evaluation of our appearance does not always go hand in hand with what the mirror returns to us: sometimes, the lack of a deep integration between the brain, the stomach and the heart seems to distort reality and generate negative connotations about our appearance without a real foundation.
According to a press release , people whose brains are less efficient at detecting these internal body messages are more likely to experience body shame and excessive worry about weight.
In other words, the brain communicates back and forth with internal organs such as the heart and stomach. If the signals are correctly coded, the perception of our body image will be healthy and realistic.
When these signals are deformed by various factors, we will tend to delve into negative aspects and experience damaging emotions about our appearance. It is known that in pathologies such as depression, anxiety or bulimia and anorexia, people experience negative feelings about their own body and its image.
The specialists have managed to verify in the new study, from evaluations carried out in a sample of 36 healthy adults, that certain messages from the heart and stomach are processed at an unconscious level in the brain .
The nervous system interprets these signals to provide the brain with continuously updated and accurate information about the internal state of the body. When this communicational mechanism fails, the information does not arrive on time or it does so with errors that modify the self-perception of appearance .
In that sense, when the brain responds less to these implicit signals from inside the body, people are more likely to have negative opinions about their external body appearance.
This would indicate that when the brain has a weaker connection with the internal organs it places more emphasis on the external body and, therefore, appearance becomes much more important for each person’s self-evaluation.
BIOMARKERS TO DETECT DISEASES
Thinking about the applications of this discovery, the scientists believe that measurements of certain heart and stomach signals could act as an efficient biomarker to help identify, or even predict, problems related to experiencing a negative body image.
This would help to more quickly diagnose associated pathologies, such as eating or psychosocial disorders . In addition, they argue that it would be feasible to train people to be more aware of the internal sensations and “messages” that their organs send to the brain: this self-knowledge could be the key to avoid distorted images about physical appearance.