Feeling fat - it's all in the mind!

UK scientists believe they have identified the part of the brain that determines whether a person feels fat.

This area is called the posterior parietal cortex and is at the side of the head, just above the ear, and it processes sensory information from body parts.

The team from University College London Institute of Neurology say their findings might explain why some people feel fat, even when they are thin.

Their findings are based on brain scans of volunteers experiencing a body size illusion.

In the study in order to achieve the so-called "Pinocchio" illusion, the 17 participants each had a vibrating device placed on their wrist to stimulate the tendon and create the sensation that the joint was bending, even though it was not.

With their hand touching their waist, the volunteers felt their wrists bending into their body, creating the illusion that their waists were shrinking.

It seems that during the experiment, all of the volunteers reported that they felt as though their waist had shrunk by up to 28%.

The team believe that people who have problems with judging the size of their body might have a distorted representation of their body image in the parietal cortex.

Lead researcher Dr Henrick Ehrsson says the brain scans revealed increased activity in the posterior parietal cortex at the same time; this is the brain region that helps interpret the sensory information coming from different parts of the body.

The volunteers who reported the strongest shrinking sensation also showed the strongest activity in this area of the brain.

Ehrsson says that unlike more elementary bodily senses such as limb movement, touch and pain, there are no specialized receptors in the body that send information to the brain about the size and shape of body parts.

The brain instead appears to create a map of the body by integrating signals from the relevant body parts such as skin, joints and muscles, along with visual cues.

Apparently other studies have shown that people with injuries in the parietal cortex area of the brain experience the feeling that the size and shape of their body parts have changed.

One good example is in people who suffer from migraine with aura who can sometimes experience a phenomenon called the "Alice in Wonderland Syndrome", where they feel that various body parts are shrinking.

Dr Ehrsson says this might also be linked to the parietal cortex.

He suggests that people with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorders who have problems with judging the size of their body might similarly have a distorted representation of their body image in the parietal cortex.

He says these are areas worthy of more research.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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