2018 Jenike Young Investigator Award

A virtual reality study of cognitive biases in body dysmorphic disorder

Berta Summers, MA

Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA)

Award Amount: $44,856

Previous research has found that people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) often assign negative interpretations to neutral or benign social interactions, and may believe that others are judging them or making fun of them when they are in fact not.

This study by Ms. Summers and her team investigated this phenomenon by presenting simulated social interactions to patients with BDD using virtual reality (VR) technology. 25 participants with BDD and 25 healthy controls took part in a VR module consisting of 13 scenarios made to evoke social ambiguity, in order to compare their interpretations of social situations and see if there are patterns of discomfort in both groups during VR. Compared to control participants, participants with BDD were more likely to have appearance-related threat biases, higher discomfort, and more negative interpretation of ambiguous social scenarios. The study demonstrated that VR is an acceptable and feasible way of providing information about the cognitive biases of people with BDD related to situations that appear threatening in the moment.

Resultimg Publication:

*Summers, B.J., Schwartzberg, A.C., & Wilhelm, S. (2021). A virtual reality study of cognitive biases in body dysmorphic disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 130(1), 26-33. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000563